MPs savage Government over prisoner mental health amid self-harm crisis

Posted On: 
12th December 2017

The Government must “raise its game” in tackling the poor mental health of prisoners which is leading to increased suicide and self-harm behind bars, MPs have said.

Committee chair Meg Hillier urged the Government to "rethink its approach" to prisoner mental health
Credit: 
PA Images

The Public Accounts Committee lamented that the system for improving the mental health of prisoners in England and Wales “isn’t working as it should”.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 119 self-inflicted deaths last year, the highest number since records began in 1978.

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Meanwhile it emerged in October that the number of self-harm incidents in jails rocketed 12% to 41,000 in the year to June.

In a tough new report the powerful PAC said the soaring numbers were a “damning indictment of the current state of the mental health of those in prison and the prison environment overall”.

Data collection on prisoner mental health was not good enough, with the most commonly used estimate of prisoners’ mental health problems now 20 years old, the report added.

And it noted that the deteriorating prison estate and long-standing understaffing “have created an environment which exacerbates the mental health issues faced by prisoners”.

Chair of the committee Meg Hillier said: “There are deep-rooted failures in the management of prisoners’ mental health, reflected in what is an appalling toll of self-inflicted deaths and self-harm.”

She added: “The evidence is stark but there is no realistic prospect of these serious issues being properly addressed unless Government rethinks its approach…

“Government must raise its game to understand the problems and we urge it to act promptly on the recommendations set out in our report.”

The Committee called on ministers to take swift action to speed up the recruitment of new prison officers and specialist mental health staff to send into jails.

It also urged the Government to boost screening procedures to better identify prisoners with problems.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “Every death in custody is a tragedy and we are redoubling our efforts to support vulnerable offenders, especially during their first 24 hours in custody.

"All prisoners are subject to health screening when entering prison and their mental health is monitored closely while they serve their sentence.

“In April this year we introduced new suicide and self-harm reduction training – over 11,000 staff have embarked on the new training. We continue to support the prisoner listener scheme, as well as providing extra funding for the Samaritans.

"We will continue to work closely with NHS England to improve services in a number of areas, including the process for prisoners who require transfer to secure hospitals.

“We have been clear that improving safety in our prisons is our priority – that is why we are investing £100m to increase staffing by 2,500 officers and we are taking unprecedented action to tackle drug use which undermines safety and stability.”