Deaths, self-harm and assaults in prisons at record high

Credit: PA

Suicides, assaults and self-harm in prisons have all reached new record levels, official figures reveal.

There were 354 deaths in prisons across England and Wales in 2016, including 119 which were apparently self-inflicted.

Self-harm incidents amongst prisoners increased by 23% to 37,784

There were 25,049 assaults recorded in the 12 months to September which is a rise of 31% on the previous year.

The statistics, released by the Ministry of Justice, underline the scale of the task facing the Government as it attempts to address the jail safety crisis.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has faced mounting pressure to tackle the issues in prisons across the UK.

Prison officers took industrial action in November 2016 over health and safety concerns. Credit: PA

In November Ms Truss was forced to hold talks with the prison officers' union amid claims the service was "in meltdown".

It came after up to 10,000 members of the Prison Officers Association held protests around the country when talks with the government over health and safety issues broke down.

Officials were ordered back to work after the Government sought an injunction at the High Court.

Then, in December there were a series of riots in prisons across the UK, including at the privately-run HMP Birmingham where hundreds of inmates wreaked havoc.

Following the walk-outs and riots Ms Truss told MPs "the issues in our prisons are long-standing and they are not going to be completely solved in weeks or even months".

At the end of 2016 the Justice Secretary announced a string of measures aimed at tackling the issues including a recruitment drive to add 2,500 staff and mandatory drug testing.