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Prisons: Mental Health

Volume 614: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2016

Prisons must become places of rehabilitation where offenders can change their lives and turn away from crime. Addressing health needs, including mental health, is key to creating a safe and rehabilitative environment for prisoners. We are committed to meeting the mental health needs of prisoners. All prisons have procedures in place to identify, manage and support people with mental health illness.

Will the Minister confirm that governors will have new powers and abilities to run their own mental health and health budgets, and will that include co-commissioning of mental health services with local clinical commissioning groups?

The approach going forward is under consideration at present. Governors have an important part to play in helping to structure healthcare services within their prisons.

Does the Department have a precise figure for the number of people in prison at the moment who have mental health issues? Will my hon. Friend reassure me that prison staff are adequately trained to deal with people who exhibit mental health issues?

Based on a Ministry of Justice survey, 49% of prisoners were assessed as being at risk from anxiety and/or depression and 16% reported symptoms indicative of psychosis. Department of Health figures, however, are somewhat different; north of 90% of prisoners have a mental health problem if substance misuse is included. I am seeking more data on this area. We are committed to meeting the mental health needs of prisoners, which is why all new intake prison officers receive mental health awareness training as part of their entry-level training.

One hundred people have taken their lives in our prisons in the past year. That is the highest level for over 25 years. More than 9,000 people have self-harmed in our prisons. That is an increase of over 25% in the past year alone. The Government should be ashamed: it is a dereliction of their duty of care. I want to know, having listened to the answer from the Government, what they are actually going to do to look after the thousands of prisoners who have serious mental health conditions and are not being looked after.

The aetiology of mental health is pretty complex. The genesis of problems do not just occur over the term of a Parliament. The system in place for mental healthcare and the continuity of care for people before, during and post their stay in prison is clearly not where it should be. I would argue that that has been the case for many decades. I have been asked to look at this matter and will be doing so, but it is a huge and complex area. As a consequence, I am not about to make any commitments at the Dispatch Box.

There is a particular risk for women in prison. Some 30% of women prisoners have had a previous admission for a psychiatric problem before they went into prison. In the past year, 11 women have killed themselves. My impression is that that is because the previous Secretary of State did not focus on the recommendations of the Corston report, which would have ensured a better level of mental health for women in prison. What is this Minister going to do on the Corston report and on women in prison?

I have read the Corston report and it is a good report. It was published in 2007 and it is still relevant today; it has intellectual coherence with the Charlie Taylor report on youth offenders. I will be looking at it and I am personally persuaded by some of the arguments in it, but I see no evidence that the former Secretary of State was not in any way keeping a close eye on the matter.