Mental health

PRT comment: HMP Wakefield

01/11/2018 00:01:00

Commenting on today's inspection report on conditions at HMP Wakefield, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This report shows what can be an achieved in an adequately resourced prison, with a stable and settled population. But it also highlights the unreasonable expectations placed on prisons and staff to care for people with acute mental illnesses. Rather than getting the help they urgently need, they are held in conditions which make matters worse, because secure mental health units will not or cannot make beds available. The Chief Inspector has correctly laid this problem at the minister’s door—the minister needs to apply the same discipline to solving it as he demands from governors in meeting the recommendations put to them.”

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The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon. David Gauke MP, set out in a speech delivered last week (Thursday 21 June 2018) how the government is improving outcomes for people with mental health problems and other needs caught up in the criminal justice system.

Speaking at the 2018 reception of the Care not Custody Coalition he set out the significant progress made since the inception of the Coalition in 2011.

The Care not Custody Coalition also published a briefing at the event, bringing together the array of work by coalition members, and progress made to date.

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Following correspondence with the chair of the independent review, Sir Simon Wessely, the Prison Reform Trust, Centre for Mental Health, and Together for Mental Wellbeing convened a meeting to provide a ‘criminal justice’ response to the review’s initial consultation. The meeting was chaired by Lord Bradley, and our response can be read by clicking here

In a follow up discussion with Sir Simon, we have agreed to convene a further meeting that will focus on people with a learning disability and/or autism in the criminal justice system, which will be held in April. 

Further information about the independent review can be found by clicking here.

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The latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley briefings prison factfile highlights in facts and figures the consequences of a punitive political arms race over criminal justice policy over the past three decades. Steep cuts to prison staff and budgets in recent years have exposed the fault lines of a failed approach. The result is an overcrowded and overstretched prison system where standards of safety and decency are way below international expectations.
 
This year’s Bromley briefings open with a brand new section which we have called “The long view”. The Prison Reform Trust has built its reputation over more than three decades on presenting accurate evidence about prisons and the people in them. In a world where ministers feel compelled to respond to issues with ever greater immediacy, “The long view” offers an antidote to the latest Twitter storm or early morning grilling in the media.

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Commenting on the Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics published today, Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Despite a small but welcome fall in deaths, every other indicator points to the ongoing and longstanding deterioration in standards of safety in our overstretched prisons. Record levels of self-harm and assaults highlight mounting levels of frustration and despair among prisoners. Too many prisoners are held in overcrowded and impoverished conditions with too few staff to provide a safe and constructive regime. With prison numbers projected to increase, declining levels of safety will be very difficult to turn around without a concerted effort by ministers to take the pressure off the system by reducing prison numbers."

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The Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Policy and Communications, Mark Day, yesterday took part in a discussion on the BBC Two Victoria Derbyshire programme on the damaging legacy of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). The BBC’s story, which was also covered by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, considered the case of James Ward, who in 2006 was given an IPP sentence with a 10-month tariff, but who 11 years later remains in custody. Commenting on the Today programme, the Chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, urged the government to “get a grip” on the issue by bringing forward measures to expedite the release of the remaining post-tariff IPP prisoners.

You can watch the feature on the Victoria Derbyshire programme here [starts 16.10]

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Commenting on today's National Audit Office report on mental health in prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
 
“This is a familiar tale of admirable policy objectives not being delivered on the ground. There is a ray of hope in the successful rollout of liaison and diversion schemes in courts and police stations that spot some of the people who are most vulnerable. But this report makes horribly clear that our prisons are holding very many people who will suffer disproportionate and unnecessary harm because of the prison environment. It is futile to expect to improve their situation while prisons are overcrowded and thousands of people are spending a few weeks inside each year simply because there is inadequate community provision. The government must grip the issue of who goes to prison so that the system can care properly for the minority who really need to be there.”

Read Peter's blog for Huffington Post by clicking here.

You can download a copy of the full report by clicking here.

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Figures released today (Monday 8 May) by the Prison Reform Trust to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (8–14 May) reveal that our overcrowded and overstretched prisons are struggling to meet the needs of the high numbers of people in their care with a mental health need or learning disability. 

Rising levels of self-inflicted deaths and record numbers of self-harm incidents point to the urgent need for the next government, whatever its political complexion, to address the decline in safety and standards in our prisons and to increase support in the justice system for vulnerable defendants.

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Commenting on the Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics published today, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"The message from these deeply alarming numbers could not be any clearer. An overcrowded prison system cannot cope with the number of people it is expected to hold. People are being maimed and dying in unprecedented numbers as a direct consequence. Two years of positive rhetoric from the government about prison reform has done nothing to stop a relentless decline in safety. There is no end in sight, and a new government must make a reduction in imprisonment a top priority."

The Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics (quarterly update to December 2016) are available here.

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Commenting on the prisons and courts bill, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"A statutory commitment to a system that rehabilitates is crucial to building safer communities. But the key task for legislation is to ensure that prisons are places in which that ambition can actually be realised. No future government should be allowed to preside over the decline in safety, decency and fairness that  we have seen in recent years. Achieving that will require a commitment to minimum standards, a clear statement of the responsibilities of prisons to those in their care, an independent prisons inspectorate appointed by and accountable to parliament, and a sustained effort to reduce chronic levels of overcrowding and curb sentence inflation."

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