Monday, January 4, 1999 Published at 18:36 GMT
Prisoner suicides at record levels
A total of 83 prisoners took their own lives
A total of 83 prisoners took their own lives last year, compared to 68 in 1997.
The total rise in the whole prison population over the same period, however, was just 7%.
Director-General of the Prison Service Richard Tilt said he was "greatly concerned" about the 22% rise.
Mr Tilt said: "I am greatly concerned by the numbers of self-inflicted deaths in prisons over the past 12 months.
"This is in part a consequence of a large increase in the prison population in England and Wales.
"Not all suicides are preventable and there are no simple solutions, but it is clear that we have a long way to go in tackling a problem which is mirrored in outside society."
Mr Tilt said he hoped a report into prison suicides due to be published shortly would help staff build on existing work to reverse the trend.
'Distressed and isolated'
The Howard League prison campaign group, publishing its own report on prison suicides, said two-thirds of the people who took their own life in jail last year had not been sentenced.
It also said that nine were aged under 18, including one 16-year-old and three were women.
Their report suggested that 11% of those who committed suicide were black or Asian.
Three prisons - Winchester, Norwich and the privately run Doncaster jail - recorded five suicides.
'Duty to care'
League director Frances Crook said: "The very fact that 83 people have felt so distressed and isolated that they have taken their own life is an indictment on the whole penal system.
"The sheer numbers speak for themselves."
He later added: "Prisons have a duty to care for those who are sentenced to custody, this task is increasingly difficult with such large numbers being sent to prison and resources being stretched.
"Despite the good efforts of those who work in prisons far too many people have taken their own lives."
Based on figures for 1995, the Prison Service said England and Wales came midway on a table comparing suicide rates in other European countries, headed by Scotland with 284 deaths per 100,000 inmates, with Greece at the bottom with 57.