Prisons have become “asylums” for mentally ill
offenders because of a decline in the number of NHS psychiatric
beds, the Zahid Mubarek inquiry has heard.
In a written submission to the inquiry which is in its final stage
today, Michael Howlett, director of charity the Zito Trust said:
“We have allowed a situation to develop over the years in
which prisons have become psychiatric asylums by
There were around 154, 000 NHS psychiatric beds in England and
Wales in 1954, but this was reduced to about 30,000 by 2002,
according to figures quoted by Howlett.
He told the inquiry: “We are now trying to rectify this by
implementing NHS-style strategies in institutions which are not
only over-crowded, but also culturally not necessarily sympathetic
The inquiry has been examining how Zahid Mubarek, 19, came to be
murdered by his racist cellmate Robert Stewart, then also 19, at
Feltham young offender institution in 2000.
Stewart, a serial offender, had been diagnosed with a personality
Howlett said Stewart’s future would have been “markedly
different” if he had been referred to a therapeutic community
at an early age.
He told the inquiry: “I am convinced that the failure to
detect the early signs of conduct disorder, serious emotional and
behavioural problems, extrapolated from what is known about the
family and the child’s environment, is the major reason why
these vulnerable young people deteriorate through criminal
offending, alcohol and drug abuse to full-blown antisocial or
psychopathic personality disorder in adulthood.”
According to the prison and probation service submission to the
inquiry, an estimated 9 out of 10 prisoners suffer from at least
one mental disorder.
The inquiry’s final report is expected in February.