Healthcare in Welsh prisons is “chaotic” and on the verge of crisis, suggests a report by the British Medical Association.
With the prison population now at a record high of 80,000, the report concludes that overcrowding is to blame and that more funding is urgently needed.
Dr Richard Lewis, the BMA’s Welsh secretary, said: “Prisons in Wales have come under intense public scrutiny because of high profile cases of overcrowding and prisoner escape.
“Yet behind all these damaging headlines are a small band of dedicated doctors working tirelessly for their patients. “
The BMA report – Prison Medical Services – Ensuring a Future for Services in Wales – calls for an increase in funding for to help address the “historic under-investment” in prison medical care.
There should be more of a focus on mental health, drug dependence, the after-effects of alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases, the report added.
BMA figures indicate that over 70% of sentenced prisoners have one or more mental disorders, while 7% of men and 14% of female prisoners have a psychotic disorder – 14 and 23 times that of the general population.
The report comes as Home Office figures reveal a 600% increase in prison violence over the last 10 years.
Home secretary John Reid said that violent incidents in UK jails had reached nearly 14,000 a year, up from 2,342 in 1996.
Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust said: “Prison numbers have risen from 61,467 in 1997 to 80,000 today, but without a proportionate rise in numbers of prison staff.
“We have 90 prisons overcrowded and high numbers of volatile, vulnerable people are in transit from one unknown jail to another.
“No surprise then that reconviction rates have soared, self-harm has reached epidemic level and violence is commonplace.”
Rebecca Remigio, Hafal’s Senior Consultant in Criminal Justice and Secure Services, said: “We need to move to a situation where people with severe mental health problems are not sent to prison.
“The National Service Framework for Wales on mental health requires effective court diversion arrangements and we need to see this happening right across the country.
“Dealing with this would not only ease prison over-crowding but also be of benefit to those who would otherwise be locked up in a cell, desperately in need of treatment.”
In Wales, First Minister Rhodri Morgan has called for any new Welsh prisons to be sited near the heads of the south Wales valleys.
Taking questions in the chamber, Mr Morgan was asked about plans to ease prison overcrowding by building a new jail in Cwmbran.
He said the National Offender Management Service was looking for sites in Wales but it had not made a final decision yet.