Mental health in prison inquiry launched

A serious increase in the level of self-harm incidents in prisons, and generally poor levels of information about wider matters concerning mental health in places of detention, are among the issues that have prompted the House of Commons Justice Committee to launch an inquiry, Mental Health in Prison.

Between 2010 and 2020 the rate of self-harm incidents in prisons more than doubled from 318 incidents per 1000 prisoners (a total of 26,983 incidents) to 741 per 1000 prisoners (a total of 61,153 incidents).

However, apart from statistics on self-harm and self-inflicted deaths, there is very limited data on the current levels of mental health need in prisons. In 2017 the National Audit Office said:

“The data on how many people in prison have mental health problems and how much government is spending to address this is poor”.

Nevertheless, most research suggests that people in prison are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those in the wider community. This is because of several factors, including:

  • social and personal issues such as unemployment, substance misuse or trauma;
  • being in prison can exacerbate poor well-being because prisoners are less able to manage their own day-to-day lives; and
  • many prisoners move in or out of prison, or between prisons, making access to healthcare more problematic.

Some of these factors have been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in prisons and the wider community.

It is expected that following the Committee’s call for written evidence there will be one or more public oral evidence sessions to gather further testimony. It is likely the Committee will invite a Minister, senior officials, experts in mental health issues and possibly other stakeholders to testify. It is provisionally expected that a report on this inquiry will be published in July 2021.

Terms of Reference

The Committee is seeking views on:

  • The scale of mental health issues within prisons in England and Wales and whether enough is in place to determine the scale of the problem.
  • The appropriateness of prison for those with mental health needs.
  • How mental health issues are identified on arrival at prison and/or while a prisoner is serving a custodial sentence.
  • Support (clinical and non-clinical) available to those with mental health needs, whether it meets the needs of those in prison and if there are any gaps in provision.
  • The effect of physical prison environment on mental health.
  • The effect of Covid on prisoner mental health, including on access to services.
  • The quality and availability of mental health support in prison compared to that in the community.
  • The mental health care pathway in prison to the community.
  • Whether current commissioning of mental health services in prison is working.

Please send submissions of no more than 1,500 words through the online portal by 19 May 2021.