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The BBC's Karen Allen
"Up to 14 percent of those in jail have mental health problems"
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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
Jails 'fail' mentally ill
Prisoners have a high rate of mental illness
Jails are failing mentally-ill prison inmates with poor facilities and untrained staff say researchers.

A survey of 13 jails in England and Wales by experts from the Inspectorate of Prisons found that services fell well below those in the NHS.

Mental health
7% of convicted men display some form of psychosis
0.4% of the general population display some form of psychosis
66% of women remand prisoners have symptoms of depression
11% of the general population have symptoms of depression
The experts concluded that prisoners with mental problems should be held and treated in NHS hospitals rather than special units within normal jails.

Their report came as the government prepares to announce on Friday the appointment of a mental health "czar".

Three-quarters of prisoners admitted to jail sickbays have mental health problems, according to the report, published in the British Medical Journal.

But recent scandals have highlighted the lack of care for mentally-ill prisoners who are released only to offend again.

One problem concerning treating those prisoners is that the Mental Health Act does not cover prisons, so inmates cannot be forced to undergo treatment.

Prisoners have a high rate of mental illness, but inspectors found:

  • Only one in five staff in prison health centres had received mental health training, and one-third did not even have nurse training.

  • None of the doctors in any of the prisons examined was psychiatrically qualified.

  • Only two of the 13 jails had links with a clinical psychologist.

Healthcare standards set down by the Prison Service state that mentally-ill prisoners whose condition permits should spend 12 hours a day unlocked and out of their rooms, with at least six hours of planned activity.

Padded cells

But on average prisoners were only let out of their cells for three and a half hours a day and therapeutic activity was limited.

Disturbed prisoners were often left in unfurnished, padded "seclusion" cells because staff shortages meant warders could not cope.

A period in prison should present an opportunity to detect, diagnose, and treat mental illness in a population often hard to engage with NHS services

John Reed
Report author,
And inmates are waiting up to 11 months to be transferred to hospitals for specialist care.

Report author John Reed said: "A period in prison should present an opportunity to detect, diagnose, and treat mental illness in a population often hard to engage with NHS services.

"This could bring major benefits not only to patients but to the wider community by ensuring continuity of care and reducing the risk of re-offending on release."

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "The Prison Service has readily acknowledged for some time that the standards of care afforded to patients with mental health problems have in many different respects not been equivalent to those afforded to patients by the NHS.

"This article provides graphic examples of where and how this is the case in a range of establishments."

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15 Feb 99 | Health
A therapeutic approach to crime
13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Personality disorder
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