Prison regime needs overhaul, MPs warn

The Home Affairs select committee today criticised the prison
system for failing people with mental health problems,
writes Clare Jerrom.

The committee’s first report identifies that
the system is failing in two ways: individuals with mental health
problems who commit crimes are being sent to prison because of
failures of mental health care in the community. Secondly,
prisoners who become severely mentally ill in prison are not being
diverted out of the prison system and into appropriate secure units
in the community.

The group of MPs are “deeply concerned” by the
over-representation of minority ethnic groups across the criminal
justice system.

The report also warns that the recent efforts to reform the
prison regime for juveniles, has neglected the young adult
offenders aged 18-21-years-old.

“Levels of constructive activity and intervention
programmes for the young adult prison population are woefully
inadequate,” says the report.

“The government should match the investment it has made in
developing a rehabilitation strategy for juveniles by designing an
equivalent tailored range of interventions for young adults,”
the report adds.

The committee warns that the sharp rise in the number of women
prisoners needs “particular attention”. It also voices
concern at the expanding use of remand.

The report recommends that every prisoner should receive health
screening, including mandatory drug testing, on admission to
prison. It also calls for an overhaul of the prison regime to
support prisoners working a conventional 9 – 5pm working day
in education, training or work programmes.

A greater use of day release schemes is urged to enable
prisoners to experience work in the community prior to release and
demonstrate their abilities to employers.

“Basic labour shortages and skills gaps in the external
labour market should be identified and matched to vocational
training and working programmes in prisons,” the report

“Some of the labour shortages in the economy that are
currently met through managed migration could be met by enhancing
the employment potential of the prison population,” it

The Howard League for Penal Reform welcomed the call for a
radical rethink of the prison regime. However it warned that the
idea that prisoners should be employed by private companies or
community organisations was a limited objective. Private companies
work for profitability rather than social benefit and local
community groups “tend to concentrate on small scale
charitable work”.

“Prisoners who have employment on release are much less
likely to re-offend than those who go on the dole,” said
Frances Crook, director of the charity. “At the moment
prisons are more than likely to ensure that you or I are the next

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