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Friday, 26 June, 1998, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Mental illness 'rife' in prison
women's prison
More than half of all women behind bars have a mental illness
Three quarters of all women held on remand have a mental health problem, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics.

The survey, carried out in 1997 for the Department of Health, showed that prisoners have a much higher level of mental health problems than the national average.

Seventy-five per cent of female remand prisoners and 58% of male remand prisoners surveyed had symptoms of neuroses, such as depression, anxiety and phobias.

This was 13-20% higher than the levels for sentenced prisoners and more than four times higher than the national average.

Suicide

More than a fifth of male prisoners and nearly two fifths of women prisoners had attempted suicide, with a quarter of female remand prisoners having tried to kill themselves in the past 12 months. Over one in 10 had tried to harm themselves.

The researchers randomly selected one in five people of the prisoners interviewed for an expert assessment. This showed that 14% of the women and up to 10% of the men were psychotic, compared to 0.4% of the average population.

Most were identified as having personality disorders, including antisocial behaviour and paranoia.

Drink and drugs

Up to 63% of male prisoners and 39% of female prisoners had a dangerous level of drinking and drug addiction was very common. Over half of all prisoners had a drug problem, compared with 11% of the general population.

Prison
Prison officers need mental health training, says SANE
Remand prisoners were more likely than sentenced prisoners to be addicted to opiates, such as heroin. Women held on remand were almost twice as likely to be addicted to opiates as women in prison.

Mental health charity SANE said the survey showed the depth of the mental health problem and added that prison was not the best place to treat the mentally ill.

"Prison is no place for people suffering from mental illness," said spokeswoman Grainne McMorrow. "It is an unjust society that incarcerates people whose criminal actions may be the result of an illness they cannot control."

SANE is calling for the government to increase assessment of prisoners for mental health problems and to train staff to deal with the mentally ill.

"Traumatic and isolating"

The Howard League for Penal Reform says decreasing the prison population would help to improve mental health.

It is also calling for effective screening of prisoners with mental health problems, more anti-bullying strategies, a multi-agency approach to suicide prevention in prison and better support networks for prisoners.

"The experience of prison is so traumatic and isolating that people are driven to an act of ultimate desperation," said a spokeswoman.

She added that it was even more important for openness about prison suicides in private prisons so that officials can be brought to account.

Seventeen prisoners have committed suicide in Britain's seven private prisons. The first was opened in 1992.

See also:

03 Jun 98 | Latest News
Mental health rights case goes to Lords
05 Jun 98 | Latest News
9m mental health unit gets green light
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