Determining rates of death in custody in England and Wales

Stella Botchway, Seena Fazel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In England and Wales, there has been considerable work over recent years to reduce the numbers of deaths in custody. Currently, there is no standard, internationally agreed definition of a death in custody, which limits comparisons. In addition, rates of death in custody are often reported per country or region inhabitants, but it would be more useful to report per number of detainees. In this short communication, we present data on deaths in individuals who have been detained in England and Wales between 2016 to 2019. We also present a method to calculate rates of death per custodial population in key settings using routine data, allowing for more consistent comparisons across time and different settings. Most deaths in custody between 2016–2019 occurred in prisons (56% of all deaths in custody over 2016–19; Table 1). However, when rates are considered, those detained under the Mental Health Act had the highest rate of deaths, which ranged from 1103–1334/100,000 persons detained. Around one in five deaths were self-inflicted. The data presented highlights the need to maintain focus on improving the physical health and mental health of all those detained in custody, both whilst in detention and after release.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In England and Wales, there has been considerable work over recent years to reduce the numbers of deaths in custody. Deaths of individuals in the custody of the state (Crown Prosecution Service, ) can occur in a number of settings. Here, we consider a death in custody to include deaths occurring in prison, in hospital for those detained under a mental health law, such as the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) in England, in or following police custody, and in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) or their equivalents. The collection, analysis and dissemination of accurate data on deaths in custody helps to monitor trends, highlight vulnerable sub-populations and assess the impact of preventative measures. In England and Wales, this work is supported by the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP), which provides independent advice and expertise to the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody. The panel collates and publishes data on deaths in custody and helps to shape policy and share lessons learned.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Suicide
  • detention
  • mortality
  • prison
  • ‘Mental Health Act’
  • ‘police custody‘


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