The government’s failure to join up criminal justice with health and social care has fuelled the rise in the prison population since Labour came to power, according to a report published today by the Prison Reform Trust.
It warned that the lack of provision for prisoners with mental health illnesses, learning disabilities and drug or alcohol addictions was in breach of disability and equalities legislation.
The prison population has risen above 83,000 – up 38% since May 1997, when it was 60,131.
Figures in the PRT’s report show that 7% of male prisoners and 14% of female prisoners had a psychotic disorder. Up to one-third of offenders had learning disabilities or difficulties that “interfere with their ability to cope with the criminal justice system”. More than half of all elderly prisoners had a mental disorder.
Ethnic minorities were also 40% more likely than white people to access mental health services through the criminal justice system.
Disabilities and drugs
A quarter of newly sentenced prisoners reported a long-standing physical disorder or disability, while 70-80% of prisoners tested positive for Class A drugs on arrival.
“Shaming levels of imprisonment was not an expected outcome from a government committed to social inclusion,” according to the trust’s Bromley briefing prison factfile.
The trust called for stronger sentencing guidelines and for proper implementation of the Bradley and Corston reviews, which recommended improvements to diversion schemes for mentally ill and women prisoners.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, questioned why government ministers were “hell-bent” on building more prisons rather than investing in treatment for addicts and effective health and social care.
“Government must get a grip and deliver its promise to reduce social exclusion,” Lyons said. “Ever-growing numbers of sick people recycled around a bleak prison system is not the way to do it. It’s time to stop mindless prison building and cut crime by sensibly improving public health.”