Thursday, 3 July 2014

Further Thoughts on Mental Health and Prisons

One of the issues that rarely seems to get discussed is the longer-term economic cost of deteriorating mental health among prisoners who are routinely locked "behind their doors" - in some cases for up to 23 hours a day. When prisoners are placed on the Basic regime - effectively solitary confinement with no rented TV and little or no interaction with other people, including opportunities to phone their families - their mental health quickly starts to deteriorate and some resort to self-harm as a coping mechanism. It isn't at all surprising the the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman recently highlighted the doubling of the suicide rate since the new IEP system (PSI 30/2013) was introduced on 1 November 2013.

HMPS Mission Statement
Now that more and more prisoners are likely to be downgraded to Basic (especially people maintaining innocence who cannot participate in so-called Offending Behaviour programmes) there is likely to be a significant rise in mental health problems, which won't suddenly disappear when a prisoner is discharged, but will make it much less likely they will be able to reintegrate back into the community successfully, be able to support themselves and avoid re-offending.

Another key issue is that fewer staff on the wings or house blocks can lead to a rise in unseen bullying or exploitation of younger, elderly or weaker prisoners. Again, such mistreatment also contributes to a rise in mental health problems, severe depression, self-harm and suicide.

There are currently over 85,000 people incarcerated in the UK. The vast majority of these prisoners will, sooner or later, be released back into the community. Mistreating inmates while they are in prison, and then failing to prepare them for reintegration and resettlement upon release, are storing up much more costly problems for the future and will do nothing to reduce re-offending.

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