PRESS RELEASE: Criminal Justice System is ‘failing people with a mental illness’

The criminal justice system is “failing people with a mental illness” according to a major inspection released today, Wednesday 17th November.

It found that thousands of people with a mental illness are coming into the criminal justice system each year but their needs are being missed at every stage. Notably prisons continue to be used as a “place of safety”, particularly for women, due to a shortage of mental health services in the community. This was dubbed “inappropriate and inhumane” with senior managers at one women’s prison counting 24 such incidents in the previous 12 months. These cases involved women in acute mental health crisis being remanded in prison as suitable alternatives could not be accessed.

Inspectors looked at more than 300 cases from six regions across England and Wales, interviewing 550 professionals, and 67 people with mental health issues who had been through the criminal justice system.

The report produced a number of recommendations including ending the inappropriate use of prison as a place of safety, immediately ensuring that acutely unwell prisoners who require secure mental health inpatient hospital treatment are transferred within 28 days, in line with NHS guidelines. Plus, improving the quality of pre-sentence reports to ensure that they contain a comprehensive analysis of trauma, mental health needs and proposals for appropriate treatment where indicated.

The report follows figures released in October from the Ministry of Justice that showed a 47% increase in the rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 people in the women’s estate on the last quarter. This is an increase for the ninth consecutive year and is evidence of a deeply worrying continuation of deteriorating mental health for women in prison.

Dr Kate Paradine, chief executive of Women in Prison, says:

“This report is yet another devastating reminder of the overwhelming mental health crisis in women’s prisons. Prison is a dead-end that will never be able to meet people’s mental health needs. Women who are severely unwell are being locked away simply because there aren’t enough beds in mental health facilities. This is even more concerning in light of Government plans to create more prison places which will only see more women and families suffer.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Instead, the Government can and must use the money for prison places to invest in community-based services that support women to tackle the issues that sweep them into crime in the first place, like domestic abuse and ill mental health.”

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For media enquiries, please contact Molly Fleming at [email protected], Phone: 07971951477

Read the case for women’s centres here and for key facts on women in prison here.

Women in Prison (WIP) is a national charity that delivers support for women affected by the criminal justice system in prisons. We work in prisons, the community and ‘through the gate’, supporting women leaving prison. We run three Women’s Centres and ‘hubs’ for services in Manchester, Surrey and London) and campaign to end the harm caused to women, their families and our communities by imprisonment

See for more information. Twitter: @WIP_live