Calls to check prisoners for mental illness

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Almost half the inmates who commit suicide have a known previous history of psychiatric illness, according to a report published today.

The study says that jailing mentally disordered offenders can worsen some conditions and prevent people from being properly treated. It describes locking up psychiatrically disturbed people as "inhumane".

The Penal Affairs Consortium, which represents 34 organisations concerned with the prison system, also calls for facilities to be set up at courts and police stations to test whether offenders are mentally ill.

The report, An Unsuitable Place for Treatment, says that 47 per cent or 28 of the 60 inmates who killed themselves in prisons in England and Wales in 1995/96 had a known previous psychiatric history. Last year, a record 70 inmates committed suicide in prisons in England and Wales.

The report recommends the setting up of specialist facilities to deal with mentally disordered offenders and defendants.

-- Jason Bennetto

Crime Correspondent