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29 Sep 2021

Howard League responds to Justice Committee report on mental health in prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to a report by the Justice Committee from its inquiry into mental health in prison, published today (Wednesday 29 September).

Through its legal and policy work, the Howard League is aware of the vast scale of unmet mental health need in prison. This ranges from people who urgently require hospital care and treatment and those with learning difficulties, anxiety and depression to people with no underlying mental health conditions who become distressed and unwell in prison.

The Howard League has supported the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System in calling for the abolition of a law that gives courts the extraordinary power to send people for their ‘own protection’. In its report, the Justice Committee welcomes government proposals to end the concept of prison being used as a place of safety for those with acute mental health needs and calls for this practice to be abolished by 2022.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is almost impossible to imagine the scale of mental distress in prisons across the country, where tens of thousands of people have been held in overcrowded conditions or solitary confinement ever since the pandemic began and, in many cases, long before.

“This report draws attention to the many gaps in treatment in an overburdened and under-resourced system, but we must not lose sight of the fact that prisons can create mental distress themselves. People who have been crammed into unfit jails plagued with violence and self-injury can acquire mental health problems, which then become worse and worse.

“Any drive to improve mental health must begin with a focus on keeping people out of the criminal justice system in the first place. Reducing the prison population is key to saving lives and preventing crime.”

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. Written evidence submitted by the Howard League to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into mental health in prison can be found online.
  3. The Howard League and another charity, Centre for Mental Health, worked together on a joint programme on preventing people losing their lives through suicide in prison. Further information about the programme can be found on the Howard League website.
  4. A blogpost by Frances Crook, about the campaign to abolish courts’ power to remand people in prison for their own protection, can be found online.
  5. In June 2021, the Howard League responded to the Department of Health’s women’s health strategy and stated: “The legal powers to send women in acute mental distress to prison ‘for their own safety’ has no place in either a modern justice or healthcare system and should be repealed.” The response can be found online.
  6. In 2018, the Howard League gave evidence to a Health and Social Care Committee inquiry into prison healthcare. The written submission can be found online.
  7. More information about the Justice Committee’s inquiry into mental health in prison can be found online.


Rob Preece
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