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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