The prison service looks after 1,500 inmates judged to be at risk of suicide
The number of prison inmates who killed themselves in England and Wales fell to 61 in 2008, according to the Ministry of Justice.
The figure is said to be the lowest since 1996 and shows a reduction of 31 on 2007, when 92 inmates suffered a "self-inflicted death".
Each day there are said to be more than 1,500 people at risk of suicide among a reported prison population of 83,240.
Of the 61 deaths recorded in 2008, one was of a female inmate.
The cut was welcomed by Justice Minister Shahid Malik: "Each and every death is a personal tragedy for all those who are left behind," he said.
"Any reduction in the number of self inflicted deaths in our prisons is very welcome news."
He added: "It is important to recognise the good work of all those who continue to care for the most vulnerable prisoners in our custody."
The number of deaths can vary from year to year by quite a wide margin; so the Ministry of Justice prefers to look at the figures on the basis of a three year average calculated as the number of deaths per 100,000 of prison population.
On that basis there has been a steady downward trend in the number of prison suicides since 2004.
The average deaths per 100,000 for the three years to the end of 2008 was 91, compared with 101 for the year before.
New guidelines to tackle suicide and self-harm behind bars were published in October 2007 and had been implemented by April 2008, the Ministry of Justice said.
3 YEAR AVERAGE DEATH RATE
2000 - 130 per 100,000
2001 - 125 per 100,000
2002 - 122 per 100,000
2003 - 124 per 100,000
2004 - 130 per 100,000
2005 - 119 per 100,000
2006 - 105 per 100,000
2007 - 101 per 100,000
2008 - 91 per 100,000
The new measures included better training for staff, working with outside organisations like The Samaritans and ensuring that information is shared more effectively.
Since 2004 all deaths in prison custody have been investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw.
Mr Shaw said: "Each death in custody is a tragedy and my office carries out independent investigations to find out what happened.
"The bereaved family are invited to ask any questions. I know that the Prison Service takes the safety of prisoners very seriously and I too am pleased that the number who died in 2008 is lower than last year."