Headlines: September 18th, 2008

A report today says people sentenced to imprisonment for public protection have high rates of mental health problems and do not get enough help. The report, ‘In the Dark: the mental health implications of imprisonment for public protection’ has been produced by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.

The report says IPP prisoners are much more likely than other prisoners to have mental health problems and their status seems to be making this situation worse because it creates uncertainty and hopelessness. People imprisoned for public protection are those whose crimes are not serious enough for life imprisonment but are regarded as dangerous by the courts. They can be released only when the Parole Board considers them no longer a danger. There are currently 4,600 people held in this way in England and Wales.

‘In the Dark’ finds IPP prisoners with mental health problems are often unable to participate in offending behaviour programmes. This means they are unlikely to be able to show that they are no longer dangerous. Figures in the report show that of 880 people considered for release only 31 have actually left prison.

The report finds, too, that prison health services are struggling to offer the help the prisoners need and many of them are distressed as they do not know how long they will be held. They find it hard to maintain relationships with their families.

Sainsbury Centre prisons and criminal justice director Sean Duggan said an indeterminate prison sentence was likely to cause mental distress to anyone. “But this is being made worse by the lack of accurate information prisoners and their families are getting and by delays in the provision of offending behaviour programmes,” he added. The report calls for changes to both the IPP system and to health and social services and says the prisoners and their families must be given accurate information about their sentence.