Prisons are supposed to be a place of rehabilitation, yet a prisoners deteriorating mental health can prevent that, so what can prisons be doing to improve the mental health of the prison population?
What is mental health?
We must first understand, what is mental health. Mental health is determined by a complex interplay of individual, emotional, psychological and social well-being and affects how we think, feel and act in our day-to-day lives. It determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and what choices we make in every stage of our lives. If we have positive mental health, it can help us to achieve our full potential, cope with the daily stresses of life, work productively and make meaningful contributions to our communities.
The World Health Organisation says that “mental health is a basic human right” and I think we can all agree with this.
Exposure to unfavourable social, economic, geopolitical and environmental circumstances, including poverty, violence, inequality and environmental deprivation, also increases people’s risk of experiencing mental health conditions. But dangers can also present themselves at different social scales; there are individual threats, such as job stability/job stress, local threats that can affect communities and global threats including disease outbreaks, humanitarian emergencies and the growing climate crisis.
It is obviously vital to strengthen our mental health but it is also vital to protect and promote the mental well-being of all by addressing the needs of people struggling. Some community-based services that aim to help mental health are hospitals, rehabilitation centres, community centres, social services and school health services.
But should large companies and organisations be putting services forward themselves to help their employers or their members have positive mental health?
Mental health in prisons and amongst prisoners is a growing issue. Prison has been shown to exaggerate mental health difficulties, increasing rates of self-harm and suicide.
The facts are out there:
Graham Durcan conducted a review in 2020 on prisons in England that explored this topic and found that 45% of adults in prison have depression or anxiety, 66% have a diagnosis of personality disorder and 60% have experienced a traumatic brain injury.
In the 12 months to September 2022, there were 70 self-inflicted deaths in prison custody.
In the 12 months to June 2022, there were 52,972 self-harm incidents, most of which were in the female establishments.
How can we possibly help our prisoners reform and rehabilitate if they are in a place that is worsening their mental health, making prisons ultimately pointless and more damaging than purposeful? Ensuring that the mental and physical well-being needs of the prison population include providing a positive social environment and a rehabilitative culture.
What more can prisons be doing?
There are services within prisons that can help the prisoners with their mental health and many prisons have a healthcare wing. When an individual first enters prison, they are given a health assessment to determine what support they may need, and eventually, within 7 days of arriving at the prison, they will be given another one.
But are they doing enough?
The statistics show that mental health issues among prisoners are incredibly high and do not seem to be getting better. Many documents have been written and studies have been done exploring mental health in prisons and what can be implemented to improve it.
Graham Durcan’s review set out 6 key recommendations for prisons:
Make all prisons safer by giving all staff training on mental health and trauma
Invest in community sentences so that people can get mental health support without going to prison
Speed up transfers from prison to the hospital so that no one waits more than two weeks for urgent care
Change the Bail Act to stop people being remanded to prison for their ‘own protection’
Ensure anyone leaving prison with a mental health problem gets health care in their community
Extend digital mental health support in prison
The Prison Strategy White Paper 2021 is a government-published document that also aimed to tackle mental health issues, among other things. It noted that improved mental health can reduce reoffending rates, reduce substance abuse and reduce violence within prisons, making them a safer place both mentally and physically.
For us to see change, and for prisoners to get a chance at rehabilitation these strategies must be put into place with 100% effort because everyone’s mental health is extremely important.