‘Major rethink’ needed to address scale of prison mental health problem – new report

A new report by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health is calling for a new approach to prison mental health services that would recognise that mental illness among inmates of Britain’s jails is not the exception but the rule.

‘From the Inside’ by Graham Durcan suggests that most inmates in UK prisons have led “chaotic and difficult” lives before being incarcerated and that many had been in contact with mental health services but had lost touch.

“The average prisoner has a combination of mental health, substance abuse and other problems,” a spokesman said.

“But few feel able to admit that they have problems for fear of bullying and harassment. Many prisoners who contributed to ‘From the Inside’ said they desperately needed someone to talk to that they could trust. Few found that prison health services provided the safe space they needed to deal with emotional problems.

“The report calls for a major rethink of prison mental health services.”

Recommendations in the report include:

• Comprehensive mandatory mental health awareness training for
all prison staff

• Prison hospital beds not to be used for prisoners undergoing a mental
health crisis

• Prisoners with complex and multiple needs not to be passed from
one service to another but provided with a personal care, treatment and
support package addressing all their needs – including psychological

Graham Durcan, Sainsbury Centre research and development manager, said: “Prisoners’ views about their mental health have for too long been ignored. We found that prisoners have a very clear and reasonable understanding of what they need.

“As well as better health care they need to know that when they are released they will have somewhere to live, a job, contact with their family and a chance to keep off drugs. Too often these basic needs are not met.

“Prisons will never be mental illness-free zones. Prisoners should be offered mental health services that match the severity of their needs. This not only needs new investment in improved services but efforts to tackle the customs and practices that are wasteful of resources and that make good quality care hard to achieve.”

‘From the Inside’ suggests that specialist prison mental health teams were beginning to make a difference. Prisoners seeing inreach teams said they felt more confident about their chances of getting their lives back on track outside prison.

But most prisoners with less severe mental illnesses are not seen by inreach teams they and get little or no help from prison health care. And different services in the same prisons are often unable to work together despite being needed by the same people.

For more information on this report, click here.