Prison Reform Trust urges action on mental health of inmates

Thousands of people mental health problems are being “dumped in and out of the prison system” without receiving the essential services they need, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust.

A survey of 57 prison independent monitoring boards (IMBs) carried out by the charity revealed that many institutions were struggling to cope with prisoners with complex mental health needs and failing to offer full psychiatric assessments. In many cases it was found that earlier intervention by social care or mental health services could have diverted vulnerable prisoners away from the criminal justice system.

Serious delays

Twenty IMBs reported seeing inmates who were “too ill” to be in prison and just one in six IMBs rated their mental health care resources as “good” or “adequate”. Just over half of the boards that responded also said that they were aware of serious delays in arranging for transfers of severely mentally ill prisoners to NHS services.

The report also found that many prisons did not have the capacity to identify people with learning disabilities and recommended that every institution employ learning disability specialists to provide assessments and improve treatment.

The charity called for the government set up a  national network of schemes within courts and police stations to divert people with mental health problems away from custodial sentences.

It also recommended that prison mental health care be monitored by the new Care Quality Commission in conjunction with the Inspectorate of Prisons. In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission was urged to investigate all criminal justice services’ compliance with disability anti-discrimination legislation.

Prison and mental health mismatch

President of the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards Dr Peter Selby said: “There is no more distressing a mismatch in our criminal justice system than mental illness and prison. Yet this mismatch is what tens of thousands of prisoners experience.”

Nacro chief executive Paul Cavadino added: “Jailing mentally ill people in such numbers is a disgrace to a civilised society.”

A year-long review by former Home Office minister Lord Bradley into diverting offenders with severe mental health problems away from prison is expected to be submitted to ministers within the next few weeks.

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