Male prisoners in England and Wales were 3.7 times more likely to die from suicide than men in the general population and had the same risk of dying from a drug-related poisoning.

New experimental analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) identified 1,830 deaths in prison custody from 2008 to 2016 through confidential matching of data from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). This equates to approximately 200 deaths in prison custody a year with the majority of deaths being among men.

During this period, 462 of these deaths were caused by suicide and 88 were drug-related deaths.

The risk of male prisoners dying from drug-related causes was the same as men in the general population, with opiates being the most common drug type involved in these deaths.

Due to the relatively small number of female deaths in prison (females account for 3% of deaths in prison custody) the risk of suicide or drug-related deaths could not be estimated reliably and have not been included in the report.

This new analysis was carried out following a request from HMPPS to examine how rates of suicide and drug-related death in the prison population compare with that of the general population when using the National Statistics definitions of these two causes of death.

Ben Humberstone, Deputy Director for Health and Life Events for the ONS, said:

“Our findings today show that male prisoners are more likely to die from suicide than men in the general population whilst their risk of dying from a drug-related cause was the same.

“At the ONS we want to produce statistics that can help to inform better decisions which can save lives. As the country’s largest provider of official statistics, we are uniquely positioned to be able to compare various data which can help to offer a more detailed picture of the scale of this issue.

“It’s important to remember that these numbers refer to real people’s lives and I hope these statistics can help to provide a basis to inform any future decisions.”

The data published today are based on the cause of death as stated on the death certificate, when a death is registered. This provides the final underlying cause of death, which has been confirmed after a coroner’s inquest, compared with more immediate data available at the time.

You can read more about this research on our website: Drug-related deaths and suicides in prison custody.

Information for the media

If you are a journalist covering a suicide-related issue, please consider following the Samaritans’ media guidelines on the reporting of suicide, due to the potentially damaging consequences of irresponsible reporting. In particular, the guidelines advise on terminology and include links to sources of support for anyone affected by the themes in the article, such as Samaritans.

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