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Mentally Disturbed Offenders

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2007

To ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (1) what plans she has for improving the (a) treatment and (b) facilities for offenders suffering from (i) psychotic illnesses and (ii) other mental illnesses; and if she will make a statement; (143311)

(2) what plans she has to improve the screening of offenders for (a) mental illnesses and (b) drug addiction; and if she will make a statement.

Under the Mental Health Act 1983 the courts have powers to assess mentally disordered offenders before sentencing and to divert them to receive specialist treatment in hospital rather than punishment. The police also have the power under the Act to remove a person who appears to be suffering from mental disorder to a place of safety. The Government plan to publish guidance this year to the NHS and partner agencies which supports the development of local diversion services by building on current best practice.

The prison population has a disproportionately high prevalence of mental illness, and so it has been the policy of the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and Department of Health to improve the provision of mental health services in our prisons.

Beginning in 2003, and completing in April 2006, the national health service took over the commissioning responsibility for all prison health services in public sector prisons. This was previously the responsibility of the Prison Service. One of the main reasons this transfer has made was to help ensure that prisoners had better access to mainstream health services.

All prisoners, both new prisoners and those transferred in from one prison to another, benefit from a new health screening process, introduced across the prison estate in 2004, that is designed to detect physical and mental health problems.

Prisoners who are identified as needing further help can be referred to a mental health in-reach team, who will arrange further assessment and follow up referral.

Investment in prison mental health in-reach services has been steadily increasing, with nearly £20 million invested in these services each year since 2004-05, and 360 whole time equivalent staff employed, more than the initial commitment in the NHS Plan to create 300 posts.

People who are mentally too ill to remain in prison should be transferred to hospital. We have introduced tighter monitoring to identify prisoners waiting an unacceptably long period for transfer to hospital, and a protocol was issued to prisons and primary care trusts in October 2005 setting out what must be done when a prisoner has been waiting for a hospital place for more than three months following acceptance by the national health service.

These measures have helped bring about positive results. In 2006, 33 per cent. more prisoners, with mental illness too severe for prison, were transferred to hospital than in 2002—up to 961 from 723. There has been a significant decrease in the number of people waiting over 12 weeks for a transfer—in the quarter ending March 2007, 40 prisoners were waiting, down from 51 in the same quarter in 2005.

The healthcare screening process also inquires about drug and alcohol use, and looks for evidence of dependence in those who report current or recent use. Reception screening should be focused to ensure that appropriate prescribed clinical management is undertaken by a doctor soon after reception. Clinical drug testing is used to establish the level of opiate dependence before clinical management begins. The new Integrated Drug Treatment System is introducing National Treatment Agency models of care to 49 prisons.