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UK: Still Dying on the Inside: Examining Deaths in Women's Prisons

8th May 2018

On the 1st of May 2018 British charity INQUEST published their latest report Still Dying on the Inside: Examining Deaths in Women’s Prisons.

The research was compiled through various methods: examination of official data; INQUEST’s original research and casework; analysis of coroners’ reports and jury findings; and, the charities work with the bereaved families of those who have died in prison.


This research follows 2008’s Dying on the Inside: Examining Women’s Deaths in Prison, and 2014’s Preventing the Deaths of Women in Prison.

INQUEST state that they have perceived very little significant progress in this area since the seminal review by Baroness Jean Corston in 2007, which at the time signified an optimistic period in women’s penal reform. Analysing developments since 2007, Liz Hogarth found that “the situation is now much worse, and shockingly so”.

This report found that ninety-three women have died in UK prisons since March 2007.

Major concerns

INQUEST found a lack of progress in Corston’s key recommendations:

  • Reduce the women’s prison population to an absolute minimum
  • To support and sustain community-based services
  • To build small custodial units for the small number of women who may require some form of secure setting

Crucial factors for women prison populations

  • Poor prison mental and physical healthcare, INQUEST noting that conclusions from inquests often indicate poor healthcare as a factor in deaths registered as ‘natural’
  • More than half of women in English prisons have experienced some form of abuse as children, and 79% of Muslim women will have experienced abuse previous to imprisonment
  • Black women experience a disproportionate use of custodial remand and sentencing
  • In 2017 there were 8,015 incidents of self-harm in women’s prisons, with 292 self-harming women per 1,000 prisoners, almost twice the amount of male prisons

Reviewing deaths

  • 93 women have died in prisons in England and Wales since 2007
  • 2016 was the deadliest year on record for both male and female prisoners, with 346 prisoners dying overall
  • Of the 93 deaths in women’s prisons since March 2007, 37 were self-inflicted, 48 were non self-inflicted and 8 await classification
  • Of these 93 women, 12 were BAME, 5 white Irish and 76 white
  • 7 transgender women have died in men’s prisons since March 2007, 5 of which were self-inflicted
  • 116 women died while under probation supervision between 2010/2011 and 2016/17

Conclusions and recommendations

INQUEST highlighted the core issues raised in coroners’ reports and jury findings to prevent future deaths, including communication failures, poor record keeping, poor mental health assessments, suicide and self-harm management, and insufficient training.

They concluded that the imprisonment of women is a form of state-sanctioned violence, and that the high percentage of women prisoners who had experienced abuse indicated that there was no clear demarcating line between women as defendants and women as victims.

Their key recommendations were:

  1. Redirect resources from criminal justice to welfare, health, housing and social care
  2. Divert women away from the criminal justice system
  3. Halt prison building and commit to an immediate reduction in the prison population
  4. Review sentencing decisions and policy
  5. An urgent review of the deaths of women following release from prison
  6. Ensure access to justice and learning for bereaved families
  7. Build a national oversight mechanism for implementing official recommendations

INQUEST calls for urgent action to save the lives of women in prison through the transformation of services and insists on an end to the inappropriate imprisonment of women.

Read the full report here.

viewed here