Self-harm in prison custody

The main facts and figures show that:

  • overall, rates of self-harm among prisoners increased between 2012 and 2016
  • there was a higher rate of self harm in prisoners from the White ethnic group than in any other ethnic groups
  • between 2012 and 2016, the rate of self-harm among prisoners from a Mixed ethnic background more than tripled
Things you need to know

This data records the number of occasions on which an act of self-harm was reported, not the number of prisoners that self-harmed, nor how often prisoners harmed themselves. Prisoners may therefore be included in the data more than once. This means that the rate of self-harm per 1,000 prisoners should be considered with some caution.

Estimates based on a larger number of prisoners are generally more reliable. The smaller numbers of prisoners from the Asian, Black, Mixed and Other ethnic groups mean that estimates for these groups are less reliable than estimates for White people.

What the data measures

The data measures the number and rate of incidents of self-harm per 1,000 prisoners in England and Wales per calendar year from 2011 to 2015. The data is broken down by ethnicity.

Self-harm in prison custody is defined as any act where a prisoner deliberately harms themselves, regardless of how they do so, what their intent is or how badly they injure themselves.

The ethnic categories used in this data

Prisoners reported their own ethnicity according to the following broad categories:

  • Asian/Asian British
  • Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
  • Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
  • White
  • Other (including Chinese)

Ethnic groups and how data on ethnicity is collected

Self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners by ethnicity over time

Self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners by ethnicity over time

Year Asian Black Mixed White Other inc Chinese
Self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners Self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners Self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners Self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners Self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners
2012 183 113 39 325 159
2013 196 120 59 326 213
2014 160 116 75 363 185
2015 243 124 91 450 225
2016 277 143 134 551 347

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)


  • in 2016, the highest rate of self-harm in prisons was among White prisoners, with 551 incidents per 1,000 prisoners
  • prisoners in the Other (including Chinese) ethnic group had the next highest rate of self-harm, at 347 incidents per 1,000 prisoners
  • Black and Mixed ethnic group prisoners had lower rates of self-harm, with 143 and 134 incidents per 1,000 prisoners respectively
  • between 2012 and 2016, the rate of self-harm amongst prisoners from a Mixed ethnic background increased from 39 incidents per 1,000 prisoners to 134 incidents per 1,000 prisoners, over 3 times higher
  • Black prisoners saw the smallest increase in self-harm incidents over the same period, from 113 to 143 incidents per 1,000 prisoners



To calculate the prisoner population, a 12-month average (based on prisoner counts done at the start of every month) was used where this data was accessible. This data was not accessible for the prisoner population by age or by ethnicity, so quarterly data was used to calculate the prisoner population.

Ethnicity was recorded for more than 95% of incidents of self-harm. Because of the very small number of incidents of self-harm where ethnicity is not known, this data has been excluded from the analysis.

Information is provided by prisons and published by the Ministry of Justice after data checks are completed.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

Values of 2 or fewer prisoners have been suppressed to protect confidentiality. (No incident numbers have been suppressed.)


Rates per 1,000 are rounded to 1 decimal place.

Related publications

Safety in custody statistics

Quality and methodology information

Data sources


Type of data

Administrative data

Type of statistic

Official statistics


Ministry of Justice

Publication frequency


Purpose of data source

This data is used by government to inform policy development, to monitor the impact of changes over time and to model future changes and their impact on the prison system.

Download the data

self_harm_in_custody_adults - Spreadsheet (csv) 2 KB

This file contains the following: ethnicity, year and value