The Prison Officers Association have highlighted their concerns over the rising number of deaths in custody, particularly self-inflicted deaths, since Prison regimes have been expanded throughout the course of 2023. Since January 2023 to date there have been 185 recorded deaths in custody, and although some have been due to natural causes, a concerning number have been self-inflicted.

As the service recovers from the Covid lockdowns, prison regimes continue to expand, with larger numbers of prisoners being unlocked despite the lack of purposeful activities for them to partake in and in some instances depleted staffing levels to adequately supervise. During Covid lockdown periods the rate of violence, self-harm and suicides reduced.

National Chair Mark Fairhurst stated: 

“One self-inflicted death in custody is one too many and my thoughts are with all who are affected by such a tragedy. Nobody wants prisoners to get so distressed that suicidal thoughts overtake them. We must learn from previous experience and guarantee that as regimes expand, we can ensure that those in our care are not under threat and can access staff support whenever they need to. We have a severe lack of mental health support in prisons and staff are not trained to deal with a mental health crisis. During night patrol state we have dangerously low staffing levels that limit our ability to deal with prisoners in crisis. This unacceptable position needs urgent resolution. None of us want prisoners locked up for prolonged periods but we also do not wish to see bullying so rife that we are unable to tackle it because of a lack of staff and excessive numbers of prisoners unlocked. We must work with partner agencies to devise an action plan to reduce deaths in custody and ensure help is available for those who immediately need it.”

General Secretary Steve Gillan added:

“When a prisoner sadly takes their own life it affects everyone in that establishment. In the prison context of self-inflicted deaths we should be doing so much more and prison staff should have more time to spend with those at risk. All too often our prisons are under resourced leaving those who are vulnerable at risk. This needs to be urgently addressed by HMPPS to ensure everything possible is done to give staff the time to talk to prisoners about such.”






For further information, contact:

POA Press Office                                                                     020 8803 0255 Option 7

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.