Mentally-ill `kept in prisons too long', says report

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The Independent Online
MENTALLY ILL prisoners face "entirely unacceptable" delays of up to two years before being transferred to hospital, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said yesterday.

Urgent action was needed to treat prisoners in need of mental health care, warned Sir David Ramsbotham, who said the situation at Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire was a "very serious problem".

At Long Lartin - which has housed some of Britain's most dangerous criminals including Reggie Kray, Jeremy Bamber and Michael Sams - eight inmates were waiting to be transferred.

These included one patient who had been on the waiting list for the high security hospital, Broadmoor, since August 1996. Another inmate had been waiting since January last year, but had been told he was unlikely to move until the end of this year and a patient referred to Rampton Hospital in October 1997 had still not been assessed in mid-April 1998, said the chief inspector.

Sir David, who carried out an inspection of the jail in April, blamed a shortage of NHS beds. "This situation was entirely unacceptable." said Sir David in his report to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders supported the chief inspector's call. "Holding mentally ill offenders in prison is inhumane," said Paul Cavadino, principal officer for NACRO.

Mr Cavadino said that research showed that a fifth of sentenced prisoners and a quarter of remand prisoners were mentally disturbed.

The number of prisoners in England and Wales transferred from prison to mental hospitals has risen from 180 in 1987 to 750 in 1997. The Prison Service said this was because prison doctors were being encouraged to identify people who needed mental help, along with an increase in NHS places to treat them.

The Department of Health said it had spent pounds 47m opening up 2,619 beds in medium and secure units since 1990 and a further 78 beds were due to be made available in the next 18 months. These places were in addition to the three high security hospitals at Broadmoor, Ashworth and Rampton.