Mental health warning for UK prisons

The mental health of inmates serving time in England and Wales’ prisons is being neglected, a report published today claims.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind from centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange raises sweeping concerns about the standard of mental healthcare in the prison system.

It says coordination is poor, not enough staff are being employed and that current training is insufficient “or in some cases not even compulsory”.

And the report blames low public awareness for the gap between mental healthcare in the wider community and its provision in prisons.

Over 90 per cent of prisoners in England and Wales are believed to have at least one mental health disorder – but just one per cent of respondents correctly guessed this to be the case, Policy Exchange says.

“Although treatment of mental illness in prison has improved over the past decade,
mental healthcare is not given the attention it deserves,” the report states.

“The rates of mental illness among prisoners suggest that the Prison Service has become a catch-all social and mental healthcare service, as well as a breeding ground for poor mental health.”

Current spending has risen to £24 million in 2008/09 from £20 million the previous year, but Policy Exchange believes over a third of this is not being spent efficiently.

It wants a “sophisticated needs assessment” to be introduced for future spending plans, based on present requirements rather than pre-existing statistics.

This problem is reflected in wider healthcare provision within the prison system. Policy Exchange says chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham’s critical conclusions of a report on the issue of 1996 is “as relevant today as they were 12 years ago”.

“Although matters have improved since then, progress is slow,” it concludes.