Murders and suicides in prisons in England and Wales hit 25-year high
Official figures show six homicides and 100 suicides in 12 months in statistics showing rise in violence and despair.
There have been six murders and 100 suicides in prisons across England and Wales in the past 12 months – the highest levels seen for at least 25 years, official figures have revealed.
The Ministry of Justice’s safety in custody statistics confirm a growing tide of violence and despair inside prisons, with the number of assaults rising 27% to more than 20,500. A total of 9,458 prisoners – one in 10 – are reported to have self-harmed in 2015, with a 25% rise in reported incidents of self-harm to more than 32,000.
The detailed figures show that the number of suicides rose to 100 in the 12 months to March, up from 79 in the previous 12 months.
This is the highest level since at least 1999 and the increase comes at a time when the prison population in England and Wales has remained relatively stable at 85,500 over the past year.
Madala Washington was killed at Coldingley prison.
Madala Washington was killed at Coldingley prison. Photograph: Surrey police/PA
The six apparent murders in prisons in the year to March follow four the previous year. Taken together, this accounts for more prison murders in two years than in the previous eight years put together.
Normally, one or two prison murders take place each year. The latest alleged homicide happened on Friday 1 April at Coldingley prison in Surrey. An inmate was arrested for stabbing to death Madala Washington, 25.
Prison reform campaigners said the rise in murders and suicides was a clear indication of a system in meltdown.
The figures came as the chairman of the Commons justice select committee said that the National Offender Management Service (Noms) was not up to the job of delivering Michael Gove’s reform programme. This charge was strenuously disputed by Michael Spurr, Noms chief executive, who insisted it had delivered significant change in the past five years.
Justice ministers said the stark figures demonstrated the need for change. “These figures demonstrate the very serious challenges facing the prison service. They show how badly prison reform is needed,” said the prisons minister, Andrew Selous.
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“We must do better at reducing violence and preventing drugs entering prison. We must do more to help prisoners with mental health problems. We have to ensure prisoners can be rehabilitated so they are no longer a danger to others.”
But Labour’s shadow prisons minister, Jo Stevens, said: “These shocking figures have blown the lid off Michael Gove’s claims that he is the man to deal with the worsening Tory prison crisis. Now we know that the government’s own statistics reveal that rates of self-harm, homicides and serious assaults on staff have surged.
“This paints a picture of a system in total meltdown and on the verge of collapse. How can it be right that hardworking prison staff are expected to put up with such a toxic workplace environment? David Cameron’s government must immediately act to address the prison crisis which they have caused through their failure to deal with staff shortages, overcrowding and a complete breakdown of any sense of safety in our prisons.”
Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, which campaigns on behalf of relatives of those who have died, said the statistics belied any suggestion that the government was successfully pursuing a prison reform agenda.
“They reflect the desperate reality of prison life and the failure to protect those in its care. Prisons are places where the safety and dignity of prisoners is increasingly under threat. Every day Inquest hears harrowing stories from the families of those who have died. Time and again deaths occur that reveal failures in treatment and care and a lack of learning from previous deaths,” Coles said.
“Until there is a dramatic reduction in the use of prison and a redirection of resources into community alternatives, then the endemic problem of death and harm will continue.”
• This article was amended on 29 April 2016. An earlier version attributed a quote from Andrew Selous to “an MoJ spokesperson”; the error originated in an email from the Ministry of Justice, which later pointed out its mistake.