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Prisons: Vulnerable People

Volume 686: debated on Wednesday 8 November 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the statement by the Secretaryof State for the Home Department on 20 July(HC Deb, col. 473) that vulnerable women and those for whom mental health treatment would be more appropriate should not be in prison, what plans they have to achieve that result.[HL7595]

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. In 2004, 1,195 convicted offenders were diverted from prison to hospital by this route. In addition, in 2005-06 the Secretary of State directed the transfer of 427 sentenced prisoners and 495 remand prisoners to hospital for mental health treatment. The process of transferring prisoners to hospital has been reviewed and new instructions issued this year to maximise co-operation between HM Prison Service and the mental health services.

The Home Office and the Department of Health are also working together on a national development programme for extending offender health support. The programme aims to ensure that offenders’ health and social care needs are identified and addressed in the most appropriate way, including diversion from the criminal justice system where this is appropriate.

We are also taking forward a range of work on women offenders. The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, is currently leading an independent review of vulnerable women's experience in the criminal justice system. The Government look forward to receiving her recommendations later this year. In addition, the Women's Offending Reduction Programme is focusing the efforts of government departments and other agencies delivering community-based services in lieu of prison sentences; and the Together Women Programme seeks to tackle women's offending in the community by delivering services to meet the needs of vulnerable women offenders at every stage of their offending career.