Understanding of offender mental health needs must improve to prevent increasing prison suicides, says Nacro Chief Executive, Jacob Tas:
“Firstly, we must be clear about the critical importance of early intervention and stemming the flow of people that are sent to prison in the first place. There are simply too many people in prisons, resulting in thinly stretched resources, which in turn leads to insufficient support for those with mental ill health.
“At Nacro, we work with vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the country, often with complex needs, ranging from delivering offender rehabilitation, providing mental health support and supported housing. We have seen first hand that prisoners already suffer significant health inequalities, particularly in the area of mental health, and many have a multitude of competing and compounding needs.
“Because the overcrowded prison environment is likely to worsen existing mental health problems, or addictions or dysfunctional behaviour, effective alternatives to custody – ranging from various types of community sentences and supervision orders – need to be fully explored. We know that mental health treatment is more effective when delivered within community settings; this would also help to relieve mounting pressure on prisons that do not have the required resources to cope.
“By increasing efforts to tackle offender mental health problems early on, we can not only prevent more prison suicides, but also improve the likelihood of rehabilitation being successful and achieving reduced reoffending.
“It is critical for mental health needs to be identified at the earliest opportunity with robust risk assessments and referrals to appropriate support such as NHS Liaison and Diversion services, which addresses offenders’ mental health concerns, learning disabilities or substance misuse needs when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system. This must go hand in hand with an urgent increase in mental health training for prison staff, as well as greater efforts to keep track of offender mental health needs which are shared with other agencies so that the right support can be provided exactly when it is needed.”