Press release

Deaths in prison custody 2011

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Ministry of Justice has announced today that there were 57 apparent self-inflicted deaths among prisoners in England and Wales in 2011.

Minister for Prisons Crispin Blunt said:

‘Every death in prison is a tragedy, and affects families, staff and other prisoners deeply.

‘I would like to acknowledge the efforts of those who work in our prisons and those who care for the most vulnerable prisoners. The continued reduction in the number of self-inflicted deaths in our prisons is welcome news. This is testament to the good work being done by staff in our prisons.  

‘The Government remains fully committed to reducing deaths in custody.’

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

‘Reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths and occasions of self-harm continues to be a key priority for staff of all disciplines working in prisons. Staff work diligently and with immense professionalism to ensure vulnerable prisoners are held safely in custody.’

Notes to Editors

  1. As of 08.00 on 30 December, there are currently 57 deaths classified as apparent self-inflicted deaths during 2011. At the same time last year we reported 58 self inflicted deaths during 2010. These deaths are in the context of a rising prison population.  It should be noted that there are 20 deaths for 2011 which have not yet been classified and there remain 7 unclassified deaths from 2010. Figures within categories will change as Coroners’ findings are released.
  2. A fuller picture on safety in custody is provided in the annual Safety in Custody bulletin which is produced by the Ministry of Justice. This publication contains statistics relating to self-inflicted deaths in custody from 2001 in England and Wales. The 2011 bulletin will be published on 26th July 2012.
  3. Prisoner ‘self-inflicted deaths’ include all deaths where it appears that a prisoner has acted specifically to take their own life. Approximately 80% of these deaths receive a suicide or open verdict at inquest.
  4. There are currently 20 ‘unclassified’ deaths where it has not yet been possible to determine the cause of death and therefore classify the death as either apparent self-inflicted, natural causes or other non-natural. These investigations include post mortem examination(s) and, if necessary, a toxicology test and an inquest, which is held into all prison death in custody cases.
  5. Since the beginning of 2010, there has been an apparent increase in the number of deaths where initially the cause of death is unknown. In these cases, further investigations such as the post-mortem or toxicology report, may be required before a cause of death is known. In a few cases it may be necessary to await the outcome of the inquest before the cause of death is established. In some of these deaths, it appears that the cause of the death may be related to drug toxicity.
  6. NOMS has commissioned a review of the unclassified deaths. This is being conducted by Mary McFeely, of London Probation Trust.
  7. A revised safer custody policy will be released in early 2012, building on learning from PSO 2700, published in October 2007. The revised policy retains the assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) procedures at its centre; ACCT is an individualised care planning approach for prisoners at risk of suicide or self harm. Improved cross agency information flows and integrated local Safer Custody Teams. Also reflected are long-standing areas of safer custody work such as peer supporters (Listeners and Insiders) and working with outside organisations such as the Samaritans.
  8. ACCT aims to improve the quality of care by introducing individual/flexible care-planning, supported by improved staff training in case management and in assessing and understanding at-risk prisoners. At any one time approximately 1500 prisoners are subject to individualised care planning in line with the ACCT procedures.
  9. The Ministry of Justice announced the creation of a new three-tier Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody in July 2008. The new Council officially commenced operation on the 1 April 2009 and is jointly funded by the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and the Home Office. The three tiers comprise a Ministerial Board, an Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) chaired by Lord Toby Harris and a practitioner and stakeholder group, which supports the work of the IAP. The shared purpose of the Board and the Panel is to bring about a continued and sustained reduction in the number and rate of deaths in all forms of state custody in England and Wales by actively enabling cross-government learning.
  10. Learning from deaths in custody is a key part of the prisoner suicide prevention strategy. Since 1 April 2004, all deaths in prison custody have been investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s investigators and family liaison officers carry out independent investigations which also address any issues raised by the bereaved family.