Mental health

Commenting on the findings of today’s (17 November) joint thematic inspection of the criminal justice journey for individuals with mental health needs and disorders, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The government repeatedly celebrates the fact that it expects to send more people to custody and is spending £4bn to build new prisons as a result. But this hugely important joint report from six different inspectorates shows that many of the people who will fill those cells will be mentally ill. 12 years on from being given a road map to solve these problems, the government’s progress is exposed as inadequate. Austerity provides no excuse. Much of what the inspectors describe stems from a failure to work efficiently across departments rather than a lack of resource. But where resource is an issue, governments still choose to spend on punishment rather than treatment.

“A frantic search is underway for ways in which to accommodate the surge in prison numbers expected as courts work through their backlog. That will mean more people spending 23 hours a day sharing Victorian cells in prisons that should be closed. It will mean more people sent to prison as a “place of safety” despite the overwhelming evidence that such prisons cause mental health conditions to worsen, not improve.

“The solutions are still there, and this latest report lays them out. But they require the government to concentrate its attention and resources on their delivery—a task that pointless ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric only seeks to evade.”

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (29 September) report on mental health in prisons by the House of Commons Justice Committee, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: 

“The government should be deeply ashamed of the situation this report describes. We are sending mentally ill people to prisons where conditions are guaranteed to damage their health further. The first priority must be to provide the community options that will avoid the need for prison in all but the most serious cases. But there can be no excuse either for prison environments that are guaranteed to make ill people sicker and in which people all too frequently take their own lives.

“The government can find countless millions to build new prisons, but seems reluctant to invest with the same urgency in the services that would make that unnecessary. The result is morally as well as economically indefensible.”

Click here to read the committee's findings.

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Women in prison have revealed the devastating impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their mental health and wellbeing, in a briefing launched today by the Prison Reform Trust.

Based on evidence from women in prison from May 2020 to May 2021, as well as supporting evidence from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and other sources, the briefing looks at women’s experiences of prison during the first and second waves of the pandemic.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (15 July) Criminal Justice Joint Inspection report on neurodiversity in the criminal justice system, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This outstanding report shows conclusively that the criminal justice system is failing in its core duty to treat people with neuro-divergent conditions fairly, and that the number of individuals affected is startlingly high.

“The Lord Chancellor was clearly right to commission this work. But the real test is whether he will now provide the resource and the leadership required to follow through on the six crystal clear recommendations the report makes. “

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The Prison Reform Trust welcomes the publication today by the Sentencing Council of Overarching principles: Sentencing offenders with mental disorders, developmental disorders, or neurological impairments.

A high proportion of people in contact with the criminal justice system have mental health needs, learning disability or a neurological disorder. We hope that the new guideline will provide clarity and transparency for the sentencing of these individuals and help to ensure that their specific needs are taken into account and met in the sentencing process.

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Penal Reform International (PRI), in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), has published a guide for prison and probation staff to help them understand how prison life can affect a person’s mental health, with a focus on women. The guide aims to break down the stigma and discrimination attached to poor mental health, especially for women in prison.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (30 January) Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody statistics, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We welcome the small decrease in the overall levels of assault and significant drop in serious assaults on staff. But the hidden crisis revealed in these figures is the record levels of self-harm, which continue to rise unabated. A failure to ensure decent and humane conditions, as well as respond effectively to the large proportion of people in prison with serious mental health problems, is being paid for in human misery and distress. Too many people are held in overcrowded conditions with too little to do. The government needs a plan to restore purpose and hope to our prisons. Sending more people to prison for longer will make matters worse.”

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

 “The faint hope that our prison system might have turned a corner has been dashed by these numbers. Prisons are still getting more dangerous as places where people have to live and work.  More people than last year chose to take their own life rather than endure it. When an individual prison hits rock bottom, the government reduces the number of prisoners it holds – but it continues to ignore the obvious truth that it is the prison system as a whole that is grossly overcrowded. Ministers talk about having recruited more staff, but the problem will only be solved by having fewer prisoners.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Commenting on today’s (3 July 2019) publication of new definitive guidelines for arson and criminal damage offences by the Sentencing Council, Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“A significant proportion of people who commit arson have a mental health need, learning disability or autism. This guideline highlights the importance of courts obtaining a proper assessment of any underlying mental health condition or disorder before deciding the degree to which someone can be held responsible for what happened, and sets out a clear process for doing so, including full engagement with liaison and diversion services. This should lead to the fairer and more appropriate treatment of vulnerable defendants in our courts.”

Click here to read our submission to the Sentencing Council's consultation on the draft guidelines.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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