How Safe is Prison in the UK?

When considering the question “How safe is prison in the UK?”, it’s crucial to explore various aspects, including recent statistics, safety measures, and challenges faced by inmates and staff.

Current Safety Statistics

In the year ending March 2024, there were 291 deaths in prison custody, marking a 10% decrease from the previous year​​. Among these, 85 were self-inflicted, consistent with the previous 12-month period​​. Additionally, incidents of self-harm rose significantly, with 70,875 incidents recorded in the year ending December 2023​​.

How safe is prison in the UK?

Assaults and Violence

Assaults remain a major concern, with data showing 34,000 recorded incidents in the year ending June 2019, the highest on record​​. In the 12 months to December 2023, there were 108 assaults on staff per 1,000 prisoners​​.

Measures to Improve Safety

Various measures have been implemented to address safety issues. The Ministry of Justice has focused on increasing staff numbers, with a pilot program issuing PAVA incapacitant spray to reduce violence​​. Additionally, the introduction of x-ray scanners aims to curb drug smuggling, a significant contributor to prison violence​​.

Challenges in Prison Safety

Overcrowding and inadequate staff experience continue to hinder safety improvements. Despite efforts to recruit more staff, numbers have not returned to pre-2010 levels​​. The use of psychoactive substances also exacerbates violence, leading to a need for robust drug strategies within prisons​​.

Rehabilitation and Purposeful Activity

Improving safety is closely linked to providing purposeful activities for inmates. Investment in rehabilitation programs is essential for reducing violence and aiding prisoner reform​​. The government has committed up to £2.5 billion to create additional prison places, aiming to alleviate overcrowding and improve living conditions​​.


The safety of prisons in the UK remains a complex issue, influenced by various factors such as staffing, overcrowding, and substance abuse. While recent statistics indicate some improvements, significant challenges persist. Ongoing efforts to enhance safety measures and invest in rehabilitation are crucial for creating a safer prison environment.


  1. How safe is prison in the UK?

    • Prison safety in the UK varies, with ongoing challenges such as violence and self-harm incidents. Efforts are being made to improve conditions through increased staffing and better safety measures.
  2. What are the main causes of violence in UK prisons?

    • Overcrowding, substance abuse, and insufficient staff experience are major contributors to violence in UK prisons.
  3. How many deaths occur in UK prisons annually?

    • In the year ending March 2024, there were 291 deaths in UK prisons, including 85 self-inflicted deaths​​​​.
  4. What measures are in place to improve prison safety?

    • Measures include increased staffing, the introduction of PAVA spray for staff, x-ray scanners to detect drugs, and investment in rehabilitation programs​​.
  5. How does substance abuse affect prison safety?

    • Substance abuse leads to increased violence and bullying, making prisons less safe. Drug strategies aim to reduce this impact​​.
  6. What is being done to address overcrowding in UK prisons?

    • The government has committed £2.5 billion to create 10,000 additional prison places, aiming to reduce overcrowding and improve safety​​.
  7. How are staff trained to handle prison violence?

    • Staff receive training in managing violence, including the use of PAVA incapacitant spray and improved suicide and self-harm prevention courses​​.
  8. What support is available for prisoners in crisis?

    • The ACCT case management process provides support for prisoners in crisis, with ongoing improvements to enhance its effectiveness​​.
  9. How are self-harm incidents addressed in prisons?

    • Self-harm incidents are monitored closely, and prisons implement various support measures to help at-risk prisoners​​​​.
  10. What role does rehabilitation play in prison safety?

    • Rehabilitation programs are essential for reducing violence and aiding prisoner reform, contributing to a safer prison environment​​.

For further information, you can visit the UK Government’s safety in custody statistics.


  1. GOV.UK – Safety in Custody Statistics
  2. House of Commons Library – Safety in Prisons
  3. Justice Data – Prisons Data
  4. Prisons Strategy White Paper

Visit our other prison pages such as What happens to your pet when you go to prison.