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The Joint Committee on Human Rights Mental Health and Deaths in Prison: Interim Report

The Joint Committee comments on the state of mental healthcare in prisons and recommends changes to the Prison and Courts Bill.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) is made up of representatives from the House of Lords and House of Commons and considers matters relating to human rights. Their inquiry into mental health and deaths in prison was cut short because an election was called. They have, however, published an interim report about the work that they've done so far.

The number of self-inflicted deaths in prison has risen from 58 in 2010 to 119 in 2016 which is the highest number since records began in 1978. There has been a particularly sharp increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths in the female estate, up from five in 2015 to 12 in 2016 (the highest on record since 2003).

The Committee recommended amendments to the Prison and Courts Bill but it is unclear whether this will become law because the government may change in the election. The changes included:

  • A duty to set and maintain a minimum ratio of prison officers to prisoners at each prison
  • A maximum legal time a prisoner can be kept in their cell each day
  • A legal obligation to ensure that each prisoner with mental health problems has a key worker
  • A legal obligation that the relatives of a prisoner who is suicidal should be told about and invited to care plan reviews (unless there is a reason that it should not be the case)
  • Free phone calls to a designated family member or friend for young people, and prisoners with mental health conditions which place them at risk of suicide
  • A legal maximum time between the diagnosis and the transfer to a secure hospital
  • A way to ensure the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for overcrowding
  • A way to ensure the Secretary of State is accountable for maintaining the specified staffing levels.

The report also raises concerns about whether Liaison and Diversion services are being rolled out quickly enough and whether community mental health provision is adequate to support people with mental health problems.

It highlighted that prisoners serving Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences are at particularly high risk of mental ill health and that training for prison officers has been reduced which leaves many ill-equipped to identify and address mental health problems among prisoners. Legal highs have had a marked effect on prison safety and inmates' mental health.

Prisoners are entitled to the same standard of care as in the community but the committee confirmed that there is huge variation in the availability of mental health services in prisons, with some prisons having little or no provision of vital services such as clinical psychology.

Prisoners with mental health problems need continuity of care and access to safe housing on release from prison: the prospect that these will not be available increases the risk of self-harm and self-inflicted death at the end of their sentence as well as reoffending.

Finally, the lack of an independent oversight mechanism to oversee the implementation of recommendations made following a self-inflicted death in prison means that currently lessons are not learnt and opportunities to save lives in the future are not taken.

The report can be found here:

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