Prisoner death rate more than trebled in a decade, report reveals

Research shows the rate of death per 1,000 prisoners went from 0.85 in 2012-13 to 3.33 in 2022.

Prisoner death rate more than trebled in a decade, Scottish Government report reveals SNS Group

A total of 350 people died while in prison in Scotland between 2012 and 2022, a new report has shown – with the death rate having more than trebled over the period.

Research published by the Scottish Government shows the rate of death per 1,000 prisoners went from 0.85 in 2012-13 to 3.33 in 2022.

Looking at the 10-year period, deaths peaked in 2021 with 53 fatalities.

The increase in rates of deaths appear most pronounced across 2020-21 and 2021-22, the report said, adding that the Covid pandemic “may be a factor in the recorded rate of death in custody”.

It continued: “During these years, both the total number of individuals that experienced imprisonment at any point during the year and average daily prison population were also much lower than pre-pandemic levels, which may also be a factor in the higher estimated rates of death in these years.”

Of those prisoners who died between 2012-13 and 2021-22, 96% were male and 4% were female.

“This proportion broadly mirrors the gender split in the overall prison population,” the report noted.

With prisons housing more older inmates – the average age of a prisoner has increased from 31.8 years in 2010-11 to 36.9 years in 2021-21, while the proportion of prisoners aged 55 and above has increased from 3.5% to 8.1% in the last decade – the report found the largest number of deaths was in older inmates.

A total of 96 of the deaths were in prisoners aged 55 or above, with 79 fatalities occurring in the 45 to 54 age group.

Just over three-quarters (76%) of deaths occurred in prisoners who had been convicted and were serving a sentence, with the remainder being amongst those being held on remand – with the report noting this was “broadly in line with the overall proportion of the prison population”.

The Scottish Prison Service breaks deaths down into three categories, comprising those resulting from intentional self-harm, poisonings, which include cases where drugs were mentioned in the cause of death, and other deaths, such as disease, illness, natural causes and homicides.

Of the 350 deaths, almost three out of five (57%) were classed in the “other deaths” category – with three out of the 199 being recorded as a homicide, while the remainder were due to disease, illness or natural cause.

Meanwhile 29% of deaths were due to intentional self-harm, with 103 in this category, while 48 (14%) were recorded as poisonings.

Scotland’s largest prison, HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow, had the highest number of deaths, with 47 inmates there dying between 2012-13 and 2021-22.

It was closely followed by HMP Edinburgh, which had 44 deaths over the period, while Cornton Vale Prison, which is Scotland’s only all-female prison, had seven deaths amongst prisoners.

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