A report from the Commons public accounts committee cites understaffing and the ‘deterioration’ of the prison service as exacerbating factors in mental health problems faced by inmates.
The report states that 2016 was the year that saw the most suicides in UK prisons (120) and the highest number of incidents of self harm (40,161). It goes on to say that the ‘current level of self inflicted deaths and incidents of self harm in prisons is appalling’, adding that the system for supporting prisoners with mental health needs ‘isn’t working as it should’.
Mental health in UK prisons is a serious problem, 10% of male and 30% of female inmates have had a previous psychiatric admission before going to prison. Levels of anxiety and depression are high, according to a Ministry of Justice survey 49% of female and 23% of male prisoners reported symptoms, personality disorders are also common with 62% of males and 23% of females reporting symptoms, 46% of female prisoners reported making a suicide attempt at some stage of their lives. This is twice the number of males, 21%.
The rates of depression and anxiety in the general population are 12% for males and 19% for females. In the general population, the suicide rate is 6%.
(Source: The Prison Reform Trust)
Lack of effective screening, the report says, means the government has no ‘reliable or up to date measure of the number of prisoners who have mental health problems’. Prisoners with acute mental health problems should wait no more than fourteen days for an admission to a secure hospital, in 2016/17 three quarters waited longer for treatment.
The committee chaired by Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch Meg Hillier recommends that HM Prison and Probation Service improve the screening process and how it uses the data gathered to give an accurate picture of prisoner’s mental health needs. It also calls for improvements to addiction support and better sharing or information between the Prison Service and the NHS.
The report concludes that improving the mental health of prisoners is a ‘difficult and complex task’, but vital to reducing reoffending. Adding that to date the government’s efforts to improve mental health services in prisons had been ‘poorly coordinated’.
(Additional sources: Mental Health Today/ The House of Commons Library.)