Mental Health Inquiry in Prisons Launched
The House of Commons Justice Committee has launched a mental health inquiry in prisons. Issues that have prompted the launch of the inquiry include a serious increase in the level of self-harm incidents in prisons and poor levels of information regarding wider matters concerning mental health in places of detention.
Between 2010 and 2020 the rate of self-harm incidents in prisons more than doubled from 318 incidents per 1,000 prisoners (a total of 26,983 incidents) to 741 per 1,000 prisoners (a total of 61,153 incidents). This firm is frequently instructed by healthcare providers in inquests relating to the deaths of prisoners. From our significant inquest experience in this context, we are fully aware of the challenges arising from mental health problems amongst prisoners. Even though mental health problems have long been recognised in the prison population, there is limited data in respect of the current levels of mental health need in prisons. This has resulted in criticism by the National Audit Office which has stated that “the data on how many people in prison have mental health problems and how much Government is spending to address this is poor.” The Covid-19 pandemic has further affected the levels of mental health problems in prisons due to lockdowns.
The Committee is seeking views on the following:
- 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 the 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; and
- Whether current commissioning of mental health services in prison is working.
The Committee has invited submissions and there is expected to be one or more public oral evidence sessions to gather further testimonies. A report on this inquiry is provisionally expected to be published in July 2021.
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