In new developments to help mitigate the crisis in UK prisons, the Ministry of Justice has this week announced plans to give prison officers in England and Wales body cameras. The cameras are supposed to act as visual deterrent against violence and ultimately improve safety in prisons. Four UK prisons are also trialling the use of pepper spray to control violent individuals. Although officers have welcomed the provision of equipment to deal with and prevent incidences of violence, they also claim that without more comprehensive reforms, violence within prisons will continue.
These measures are a step forward to making prisons safer for both staff and inmates, but they do not address the root cause of violent behaviour within prisons. It is estimated that 90% of prisoners have a mental health condition, but it is difficult to verify the accuracy of this statistic, as a National Audit Office report highlighted a ‘stark lack of data’ on the topic. The report noted that the Government does not collect information about how many inmates are suffering from a mental illness and how many of these require psychiatric treatment. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has linked these sharp rises in suicide and self harm to failures in reaching prisoners who need specialist healthcare and medical intervention, due to the full extent of mental health conditions in prisons not being fully quantified.
The shocking rise in levels of self-harm and suicide amongst inmates demonstrates that many prisoners are not receiving adequate care for their mental health. The lack of funding and cuts to officer numbers have meant that inmates often spend up to 23 hours in their cells with no stimulation, and not having sufficient resources to conduct thorough searches has led to drugs and weapons being largely accessible. Prisoners are often unable to access rehabilitation programmes, and turn to drugs to break the boredom and frustration from long periods locked in their cells. The combination of drug use and poor conditions can exacerbate or even cause depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, which in turn can lead to violent behaviour, self harm and suicide.
The new equipment might help staff to intervene more effectively when a violent situation arises, leading to a lower risk of harm to staff and inmates. However, while budgets are still stretched thinly and numbers of staff still lower than required, it is unlikely that there will be a long term improvement in conditions. A combination of increased numbers of prison officers and improved care for inmates with mental health needs may prevent feelings of frustration and incidences of violence.
The insight of a psychiatrist can help ensure the correct course of action is taken in criminal justice proceedings. If an individual has a mental health condition at the time of committing a crime, this could have impaired their judgement. It is the role of a psychiatric expert witness to bring these issues to the attention of the court and help ensure a verdict is reached which takes into account an individual’s unique circumstances. At Foresight, we supply expert witness psychiatrists to cases nationwide. Contact us if you require an expert psychiatrist for your case.
and improve safety in prisons