Self-inflicted deaths in prison custody

The main facts and figures show that:

  • between 2012 and 2017, the rate of self-inflicted deaths per 1,000 White prisoners rose from 0.79 to 0.96 – and the number of self-inflicted deaths among White prisoners rose from 49 to 60
  • however, the rate among White prisoners in 2017 was at its lowest since 2012, having peaked at 1.66 per 1,000 prisoners in 2016 (104 deaths)
  • the number of self-inflicted deaths among prisoners from all other ethnic groups was too small to draw firm conclusions about these groups
Things you need to know

All deaths in prison custody are subject to a police investigation and a coroner’s inquest. The outcome of the investigation and inquest will sometimes lead to deaths being reclassified, so all figures for 2017 are provisional.

Prisoners had self-reported their ethnicity.

Figures based on a larger number of prisoners are generally more reliable. The self-inflicted death rates per 1,000 prisoners for the Asian, Black, Mixed and Other ethnic group are based on smaller numbers of prisoners, so any generalisations based on these results are too small to draw firm conclusions.

What the data measures

The data measures the number and rate of self-inflicted deaths per 1,000 prisoners in England and Wales in each calendar year from 2012 to 2017. The data is broken down by ethnicity.

Self-inflicted deaths in prison are tracked by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), formerly the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Rates are published in the annual offender equalities report, while the number of incidents is published in the Ministry of Justice’s Safety in custody statistics.

Self-inflicted deaths include suicides, and cases where prisoners unintentionally caused their own death. This is the definition used by the Office for National Statistics for suicides in the general population.

The ethnic categories used in this data

Prisoners reported their own ethnicity according to the following broad categories from the 2011 Census:

  • Asian/Asian British
  • Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
  • Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
  • White
  • Other

Ethnic groups and how data on ethnicity is collected

Self-inflicted deaths per 1,000 prisoners by ethnicity over time

Self-inflicted deaths per 1,000 prisoners, and number of self-inflicted deaths, by ethnicity over time

Asian Black Mixed White Other
Time Rate per 1,000 prisoners Number Rate per 1,000 prisoners Number Rate per 1,000 prisoners Number Rate per 1,000 prisoners Number Rate per 1,000 prisoners Number
2012 0.47 3 0.36 4 1.57 5 0.79 49 0.00 0
2013 0.93 6 0.74 8 0.62 2 0.98 60 0.00 0
2014 0.45 3 0.37 4 0.58 2 1.28 80 0.00 0
2015 0.73 5 0.28 3 0.86 3 1.23 78 1.02 1
2016 1.16 8 0.67 7 0.83 3 1.66 104 0.00 0
2017 0.72 5 0.09 1 0.53 2 0.96 60 1.84 2

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • in 2017, there were 60 self-inflicted deaths among White prisoners, at a rate of 0.96 per 1,000 prisoners
  • there were 10 self-inflicted deaths among prisoners from all other ethnic groups combined – this number is too small to draw firm conclusions about any of these groups
  • between 2012 and 2017, the rate of self-inflicted deaths per 1,000 White prisoners rose from 0.79 to 0.96 – however, the rate in 2017 was at its lowest since 2012, having peaked at 1.66 in 2016

Methodology

Methodology

Self-inflicted deaths are any death of a person who has apparently taken his or her own life irrespective of intent. This not only includes suicides but also accidental deaths as a result of the person’s own actions. This classification is used because it is not always known whether a person intended to commit suicide.

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

Ethnicity is based on self-reporting by prisoners and has not been independently validated. About 95% of prisoners reported their ethnicity for each year of the period studied.

Incidents are marked as ‘not recorded/unknown’ when prisoner details were either not available or not recorded in full at the time of the incident.

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

Rounding

Rates per 1,000 are rounded to 2 decimal places.

Related publications

Safety in custody statistics

Quality and methodology information

Data sources

Source

Type of data

Administrative data

Type of statistic

Official statistics

Publisher

Ministry of Justice

Publication frequency

Yearly

Purpose of data source

This data is used by government to:

  • inform policy development
  • monitor the impact of changes over time
  • model future changes and their impact on the prison system

Download the data

self-inflicted_deaths - Spreadsheet (csv) 29 KB

This file contains the following: ethnicity, year, value, and numerator