Self-inflicted deaths in prison custody


1. Main facts and figures

  • 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

2. 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 Asian Rate per 1,000 prisoners Asian Number Black Rate per 1,000 prisoners Black Number Mixed Rate per 1,000 prisoners Mixed Number White Rate per 1,000 prisoners White Number Other Rate per 1,000 prisoners Other 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 for ‘By ethnicity over time’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity over time’ (CSV)


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

3. 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.


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

Related publications

Safety in custody statistics

Quality and methodology information

4. 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
  • monitor the impact of changes over time
  • model future changes and their impact on the prison system

5. Download the data

self-inflicted_deaths - Spreadsheet (csv) 29 KB

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