Our Justice Committee submission on mental health

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Our submission to the House of Commons Justice Committee Inquiry into prison mental health has now been published.

The submission was written by our Research Director Dr Roger Grimshaw, in consultation with Emeritus Professor Paul Bebbington (University College London); Nasrul Ismail, Lecturer in Criminology (University of Bristol); and Gavin Wilkinson, Forensic Psychologist.

Our submission explains the extent of needs, which have been affected by the pandemic, and makes clear the importance of diversion from prison if poor mental health is to be properly treated.

There is strong evidence that mental health needs are highly prevalent in the prison population, according to a landmark national survey in the 1990s, which found over half the prisoners had a personality disorder and more than four in ten a neurotic disorder. A study of recent inspection reports shows that substantial proportions of prisoners surveyed reported mental health needs, especially in Category B prisons and the women’s estate.

The conditions in lockdown have been compared with solitary confinement which is known to be dangerous to mental health. he consequences of increased cell confinement, and the effect of any measures of amelioration, require careful assessment. For example, video calls to families were not universally available until January 2021. While disruptions to family contact affect prisoners adversely, there is also collateral damage to children’s well-being. Reports suggest that services have become more difficult to access, though, for some prisoners, conditions are less fraught and stressful.

Prisons are ill-equipped to address mental health need adequately, and especially in the case of victims of trauma, young people and women, can exacerbate pre-existing conditions. Transition to community services on release is hampered by the social disadvantages of ex-prisoners in employment and accommodation. A close analysis of unmet needs in prison leads to the conclusion that diversion schemes should be strengthened.’

Read our full submission here.