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Monday, 08 May 2017

Urgent need to address 'rapid decline' of mental health care in prisons

Written by Catherine Wylie

The struggle to meet mental health need in prisons has been laid bare as figures show significantly more people in prison have attempted suicide than in the general population.

Released to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, the figures from the Prison Reform Trust highlight the "urgent need" for the next government to address the "rapid decline" in safety and standards in prisons, the organisation said.

The latest figures on mental health need and learning disability in the justice system show 46% of women and 21% of men in prison have attempted suicide at some point, compared to 6% of the general population.

The figures show 25% of women and 15% of men in prison have symptoms indicative of psychosis, compared to 4% of the general population.

The organisation said 49% of women and 23% of men in prison are identified as suffering from both anxiety and depression, compared to 15% of the general population, while 20-30% of offenders have learning disabilities or difficulties that interfere with their ability to cope with the criminal justice system.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "These grim figures highlight the urgent need for the next government to address the rapid decline in safety and standards in our prisons, and to deliver on the cross-party commitment to provide timely support for people with mental health needs and learning disabilities in contact with criminal justice services, including when appropriate, diversion into healthcare.

"We hope all political parties will use the opportunity of Mental Health Awareness Week to recommit to this vital task."

Last month, "alarming" figures showed there were more than 26,000 assaults in prisons in England and Wales last year, an average of 70 per day.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice showed incidents of self-harm were up by almost a quarter, reaching a record of 40,161, and assaults on jail staff rose by almost 40% on 2015.

Deaths in custody rose by a fifth to 344 for the 12-month period to March this year, of which 113 were self-inflicted.

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