The hospitals have been so tainted by allegations of abuse and maltreatment of patients by staff, and unacceptably grim conditions, over the past decade that public confidence may never be restored, according to a report by Ian Bynoe, the charity's legal director.
Plans should be drawn up urgently for a phased transfer of their 1,700 patients, detained under the Mental Health Act, to small units closer to their home areas where the likelihood of rehabilitation is greater.
The Special Hospital Service Authority receives pounds 106m a year, about pounds 65,000 per patient, to run the establishments. Yet David Edmond, its chairman, conceded as recently as last October that administrators and managers had done nothing but 'scratch the tip of the iceberg' of reforms needed to bring about lasting improvements in conditions. Ashworth Hospital, on Merseyside, has received more than 120 serious complaints about its treatment of patients over the past five years. An independent inquiry into the allegations is expected to publish its findings later this summer.
The prevailing culture at Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire was described by the independent Health Advisory Service four years ago as 'institutionalised, and non-therapeutic'. It is now the subject of an official inquiry into the sudden death of Orville Blackwood, the third black patient to have died after being injected with drugs to control behaviour since 1984.
Patients at Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire were recently described by an inquiry team as 'unreasonably restricted by excessive security measures'.
The Prison Officers' Association, which represents most special hospital nursing staff, 'continue to exhibit values rooted in outdated philosophy of repressive care', the Mind report states.
The geographical and professional isolation of the three hospitals from developments in mental health practices greatly limits their ability to provide humane and cost-effective care, it says.
Judi Clements, Mind's national director, said yesterday: 'Despite recent reviews, the Government still has no clear, long-term vision of a comprehensive service and where to locate it. Many patients are kept in high security well beyond the time justified by their condition.'
Treatment Care and Security, Mind, 22 Harley Street, London W1N 2ED. Tel: 071-637 0741.