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16 May 2023

Howard League responds to IMB briefing on women’s mental health in prisons

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to the Mental health concerns in women’s prisons briefing by the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), published today Tuesday 16 May 2023.

The report, published in National Mental Health Awareness week, looks at the practice of sending women to prison as a ‘place of safety’ under the Mental Health Act, or for their ‘own protection’ under the Bail Act. Despite proposals to change this, the IMBs have found that the number of mentally unwell women held in prisons has actually increased in practice.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This briefing shows the effects of archaic legislation which allows courts to send unwell people to prison as a ‘place of safety’ or for their ‘own protection’.

“Prisons are not healthy environments and far from helping people in mental health crisis, they will likely compound problems even further. Many of these women are in crisis and at risk of harm, they need help and support, not weeks or months in an overcrowded prison where they could be exposed to bullying, violence and self-injury.

“The use of prison to secure protection and welfare in any circumstance is wrong in principle and ineffective, even damaging, in practice. It is crucial that legislation under the draft Mental Health Bill to end these practices is advanced and implemented, before even more women are made to suffer under these provisions.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The IMBs report, Mental health concerns in women’s prisons, will be available online from Tuesday 16 May 2023.
  3. The Howard League for Penal Reform’s submission to the Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill can be found here:



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873


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