150604 Deaths in prison custody
  • Death in prisons… I’ve written a couple of To The Point posts about the prison population recently – specifically, about how it’s rising and ageing. But here’s one that’s altogether more morbid. The above graph shows how many people have died in custody, and their cause of death, in each year since 1978. You’ll notice that it’s a rising trend. There were 59 deaths in 1978, compared to 243 last year. That’s an increase of 312 per cent.
  • …is on the up. These numbers have grown at a faster rate than the prison population. There were 1.41 deaths per 1,000 prisoners in 1978. Now that ratio stands at 2.88. It’s worth noting, though, that this is less than for the United Kingdom as a whole. According to the World Bank’s latest figures, roughly 9 out of every 1,000 Brits die each year. Presumably, this difference can be explained by the higher concentration of old folks outside of chokey.
  • The shock of the self-inflicted. But just look at how many of those prisoner deaths are “self-inflicted” – which is to say, primarily suicide. A full third of last year’s deaths fell into this grisly column, to the point that there is now 1 suicide for every 1,000 prisoners. This may not be a surprising fact, considering that this is a population of troubled people in a troubling environment, but it is still a shocking one. The equivalent rate for the country as a whole is around 0.12.
  • Beyond the graph. The statistics yield other horrible details. 93 per cent of last year’s 84 self-inflicted deaths were done by hanging. A third were among prisoners aged between 18 and 30. A fifth happened within a week of the prisoner being locked up … and so, sadly, on. But perhaps the most concerning figures of all are those for different institutions. Last year’s 3 self-inflicted deaths at HM Prison Preston gave it a rate of 4.51 per 1,000 inmates. Exeter’s was 5.67. These are outliers of a particularly tragic sort.
  • Personal tragedies, policy questions. This is not something that politicians are ignoring. Advisory panels have been established and recommendations implemented. But this just returns us to the wider problems that I’ve mentioned before. So long as the prison population continues to age, there will always be upwards pressure on death rates. And so long as more people are ushered into overstuffed institutions, there will be greater despair.

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