Call to cut numbers of mentally ill people in British prisons

The UK’s prison population should be cut by 12,000, including around 5,000 inmates who should be in mental health units, according to a new report by an influential think-tank.

The Institute for Public Policy Research suggests that Britain’s current prison over-crowding problem could be eased by diverting inmates with mental health problems to more appropriate places where they can receive treatment for their illness.

The report also recommends that a further 5,000 inmates should be sent to drug rehabilitation centres and that around 2,000 female prisoners serving less than six months should have been given community sentences.

Carrying out the recommendations would immediately cut the prison population by 12,000, said Nick Pearce, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research.

“Prison is an expensive and ineffective way of warehousing social problems,” Mr Pearce said.

“If more mental health and drug treatment were provided outside prisons, we could stabilise our prison population to 10% lower than it is today.

“The public recognises that drug addicts and those with mental illnesses should be in treatment centres and specialist mental health units, not prison.”

The Institute says the Government’s new Ministry of Justice should put lowering the prison population – currently standing at around 80,000 inmates in England and Wales – at the top of its agenda.

Money earmarked for building new prisons to house more inmates should be moved into mental health care and residential addiction treatment centres, the report says.

Paul Cavadino of Nacro, the crime reduction charity, said: “Prison often worsens mental health problems, especially depression and disorders with a depressive element.

“All health authorities should be required to fund psychiatric assessment schemes at police stations and courts to divert mentally disordered offenders from prison and into health and social care.”

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