Violence involving prisoners
The main facts and figures show that:
- overall, there were 16,782 recorded assaults in public prisons in England and Wales in 2016, compared with 13,250 in 2015 – an increase of 27%
- between 2012 and 2016, there was an increase in the rate of assaults per 1,000 prisoners in all ethnic groups, with the overall rate more than doubling in this period
- prisoners in the Mixed ethnic group were more likely than any other group to be involved in assaults in 2016, either as the assailant, the victim, or in an incident where the victim or assailant wasn’t clear (labelled as ‘fighter’ in the charts and tables)
Things you need to know
This data records the number of violent incidents, not the number of individuals involved in violent incidents, nor how often each prisoner was involved. Individuals may therefore be included in the data more than once. This means that the rate of violent incidents per 1,000 prisoners should be considered with some caution.
The data is based on all assault incidents, but does not include information about staff or visitors who may have been victims or otherwise involved.
What the data measures
This data measures the number and rate of violent incidents per 1,000 prisoners in England and Wales in each calendar year from 2012 to 2016. The data is broken down by ethnicity.
There are separate breakdowns for the different roles prisoners played in each incident:
- assailants are defined as prisoners who assault another prisoner
- victims are prisoners assaulted by another prisoner
- fighters are prisoners involved in a violent incident where they and one or more prisoners use violence and there is no clear assailant or victim
The data comes from the incident reporting system of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), formerly the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).
The ethnic categories used in this data
Prisoners reported their own ethnicity according to the following broad categories from the 2001 Census:
- Asian/Asian British
- Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
- Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
- Other (including Chinese)
Ethnic groups and how data on ethnicity is collected
Violent incidents per 1,000 prisoners by ethnicity
This data shows that:
- in 2016, prisoners from the Mixed ethnic group were more likely than any other group to be assailants, victims or fighters – for every 1,000 prisoners of Mixed ethnicity, there were 405 incidents where they assaulted another prisoner, 209 incidents where they were victims of assault, and 375 incidents with no clear victim or assailant (labelled as 'fighter' in the chart and table)
- Black prisoners were the second most likely ethnic group to be assailants (at 338 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) or fighters (at 334 incidents per 1,000 prisoners)
- Asian prisoners were least likely out of all ethnic groups to be assailants (at 150 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) or fighters (at 145 incidents per 1,000 prisoners)
- prisoners from the Other ethnic group (which includes prisoners from the Chinese ethnic group) were the least likely out of all ethnic groups to be victims (at 122 incidents per 1,000 prisoners)
Assaults per 1,000 prisoners by ethnicity over time
This data shows that:
- between 2012 and 2016, there was an increase in the number of assaults, and the rate of assaults per 1,000 prisoners, in every ethnic group – the rate more than doubled in every group except the Black ethnic group
- in every year between 2012 and 2016, the Mixed ethnic group had the highest rate of incidents per 1,000 prisoners where they were the assailant – the rate increased from 182 to 405 incidents per 1,000 prisoners during that period
- Black prisoners accounted for the second highest rate of incidents per 1,000 prisoners where they were the assailant – but they also had the smallest percentage increase in the rate per 1,000 prisoners between 2012 and 2016 (at 88%, from 180 to 338 incidents per 1,000 prisoners)
Rates by ethnicity have been taken from the NOMS Offender Equalities Statistics bulletin. Numbers of incidents have been taken from the Ministry of Justice’s Safety in Custody statistics bulletin.
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 available. This data was not available for the prisoner population by age or by ethnicity, so quarterly data was used to calculate 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.
Information is provided by prisons and published by the Ministry of Justice after data checks are completed.
Rates per 1,000 prisoners are rounded to the nearest whole number. You can see rates rounded to 1 decimal place if you download the data.
GOV.UK Safety in custody statistics
Quality and methodology information
NOMS annual offender equalities report: 2016 to 2017
Type of data
Type of statistic
Ministry of Justice
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