Prisons aren’t the right place for people with mental illness. We must find another way

Despite overwhelming evidence there is still continuing reluctance from politicians to accept just how useless short prison sentences are

Share
Related Topics

It’s
four years today since the Bradley report exposed
just how ineffective the criminal justice system is when it comes to dealing
with people who have mental health problems and learning disabilities.

Its publication marked a seminal moment in public policy. It brought attention to the fact that our prisons are full of people with mental health problems and other issues, trapped in a cycle of offending because we are failing to address the underlying causes of their behaviour.

After listening to a broad range of views including the police, prison staff, charities and offenders themselves, Lord Bradley set out a compelling vision for change.

His report received support from across the political spectrum and polling at the time by the Prison Reform Trust showed it had strong support from the public too. According to their research, 80% of people do no think prison is the right place for people with mental illness.

Despite the momentum created by the report, four years on, not a lot has changed. There have been some signs of progress such as a commitment to rolling out diversion and liaison teams, which help ensure people with mental illness are given a more appropriate sentence than a short spell behind bars, but it’s not enough.

I have real concerns over the Government’s lack of ambition on this issue. They appear to be tinkering around the edges of the system, rather than bringing in the wide-ranging reforms we need if we want to see real change.

There is still continuing reluctance from politicians to accept just how useless short prison sentences are, despite overwhelming evidence. For people with mental health problems they are worse than useless.  Too short to provide any kind of support but long enough to disrupt all the things you need to stay well such as stable housing, work or benefits.  When reoffending rates for short sentences are as high as 60% it is surely impossible to claim that prison works.

If we’re really serious about reducing the prison population, ineffective short sentences must be swapped for effective community sentences. For people with mental health problems this could include a requirement that they engage with treatment, to ensure offenders got access to crucial help. 

As other campaigners such as Make Justice Work have clearly demonstrated, there is a strong economic argument for community sentences and we need to stop seeing them as a ‘soft option’. For many, another short spell in prison is much easier than being required to address their behaviour as part of a community sentence.

Another stumbling block is austerity. If we want to see real change, we need to be prepared to invest in the short term in order to make long-term savings. We need to develop better community sentences that magistrates trust and will therefore use.

There is a particular gap in the system when it comes to people who have mental health problems which aren’t severe enough to qualify them for treatment. Low level mental health problems can be hugely significant, especially when combined with drug addiction. It would be a tragedy to bring in diversion and liaison teams who have nothing to divert people like this to.

This is a major social justice issue we no longer afford to ignore. The costs to both ill and vulnerable people and to the public purse are far too high. Winston Churchill once said you can judge a whole society by it’s attitudes towards offenders. Using this measure we are failing miserably.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power