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Monday, August 17, 1998 Published at 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK


Mentally ill prisoners face 'unacceptable delays'

Sir David Ramsbotham: Long Lartin situation "unacceptable"

Mentally ill prisoners at a maximum security prison face "entirely unacceptable" delays before being transferred to appropriate hospital accommodation, the prison's governor has said.

The Governor of Worcestershire's Long Lartin Prison, Jim Mullen, said up to 20 of his 379 inmates should be in secure hospital accommodation.

He was speaking after the publication of a report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, calling for action to speed up the movement of prisoners in need of specialist care.

Mr Mullen said six inmates "certainly shouldn't be in prison" but ought to be transferred to other more suitable units.

Eight inmates are waiting to be transferred - including one who had been on the waiting list for high security Broadmoor Hospital since August 1996.

Another inmate - waiting since January last year - has been told he is unlikely to move until the end of this year.

Mr Mullen said the problem could lead to violence involving the mentally ill inmates and attempts at self harm among disturbed prisoners.

Bed shortage blamed

Sir David's report to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said the situation at Long Lartin was entirely unacceptable.

He cited a shortage of NHS beds as the cause of the problem.

He warned it was particularly severe at Long Lartin because staff were coping with the patients, reducing the pressure on hospitals to speed up admissions.

The report said: "Prison health care centres should not be left in the position of having to care for prisoners whose mental condition can only deteriorate despite all their efforts."

It also paid tribute to the work of staff at Long Lartin in dealing with what he described as a "very difficult, volatile and demanding" prison population.

Nacro backs report

The Chief Inspector's calls were backed by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.

Nacro's principal officer Paul Cavadino said: "Holding mentally ill offenders in prison is inhumane, can worsen some disorders and prevents mentally disordered people from receiving the treatment they need."

The number of prisoners in England and Wales transferred from prison to mental hospitals has risen from 180 in 1987 to 750 in 1997.

The Prison Service said this was because prison doctors were being encouraged to identify people who needed mental help, along with an increase in NHS places to treat them.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said 47m had been spent opening up 2,619 beds in medium and secure units since 1990.

These places were in addition to the facilities offered by the three high-security hospitals at Broadmoor, Ashworth and Rampton.

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