Female prisoners with mental health problems need increased support

Fewer women should be sent to prison and there should be early
intervention and access to adequate care for women with mental
health problems who need to be detained, according to a new report,
writes Clare Jerrom.

The female prison population is increasing at an ‘alarming’
rate, and in October last year peaked at 4,040, an increase of 18
per cent on the previous year, the report from crime reduction
agency Nacro highlights.

A 1997 Office for National Statistics survey found 50 per cent
of female prisoners had a personality disorder, 66 per cent had a
neurotic disorder, and functional psychosis was found in 14 per
cent. Thirty eight per cent reported hazardous drinking prior to
imprisonment, and 44 per cent had some drug dependence.

But the report says that even though offenders with mental
health problems should receive support from health and social
services, and not punishment through the criminal justice system,
too many end up in prison.

“The situation is exacerbated by the fact that mental health
services for prisoners, especially women prisoners, are woefully
inadequate,” the report says.

It adds the effect of imprisonment is more detrimental to women
than men, and can have long term effects on them, and their
children and families.

Nacro’s main recommendation urges the government’s women
and equality unit to assume a more proactive role in pulling
together the various strands of policy, which affect women, and
women offenders in particular.

Graeme Sandell, head of Nacro’s mental health unit, said:
“This is a serious problem that requires action at the highest
level. Mental health care for male prisoners needs improving. For
female prisoners, problems are much worse.”

“There needs to be an acceptance that the mental health needs of
women prisoners are different to those of men. A ‘one size
fits all’ approach will inevitably serve to discriminate against
women, some of whom have profound mental health difficulties,” he







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