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Calls for more help for mentally ill prisoners

PUBLISHED: 13:12 24 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:05 02 July 2010

Ben Kendall

The chief inspector of prisons told Norfolk justice and health professionals that more funding was needed to help mentally ill inmates.

The chief inspector of prisons told Norfolk justice and health professionals that more funding was needed to help mentally ill inmates.

Speaking yesterday at a conference at the King's Centre, in Norwich, Dame Anne Owers said progress had been made to improve provision for offenders in recent years, but that more needed to be done.

She said it was important to act to protect the public and reduce re-offending, adding: “This is not a system that is working well.”

The conference, attended by 230 workers, was organised to address the issue of how mentally ill criminals in Norfolk are treated both in the community and behind bars.

Judge Peter Jacobs, one of the event organisers, said: “Some figures suggest that up to 90pc of prisoners have mental health problems of some descriptions. Certainly up to 20pc have severe mental health problems.

“It is in all our interests to find ways to identify those issues and deal with them long before those individuals reach crown court and even magistrates.

“That requires close cooperation between the criminal justice system and the health service. Hopefully this event will go some way towards fostering that.”

Dame Owers acknowledged that mental health represented a significant problem for the prison system. Health teams in prisons are often isolated from other departments and not enough activity is provided to inmates.

She said: “If you go into our local prisons, and this certainly includes Norwich, you will find that prisoners are not helped by the fact that there is nothing for them to do.

“If you find yourself locked in a cell for 24 hours a day, you are far more likely to be locked into your own depression as well.

“But when you look at the resources available to prisons it is difficult to see how this can be configured in any other way.”

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