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6 Feb 2024

Howard League urges government to resurrect draft Mental Health Bill

The Howard League for Penal Reform has today (Tuesday 6 February) called on the government to resurrect its draft Mental Health Bill after an inspection report revealed shocking delays in the transfer of patients from prisons to secure hospitals.

The report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons focuses on the use of prisons as a ‘place of safety’ for seriously mentally unwell men and women when there is no suitable provision available in the community.

In 2022-23, more than three-quarters of the inspectorate’s reports mentioned delays in transferring seriously unwell men and women from prison. Today’s report states that, while there are many prison staff advocating for patients, limited access to secure mental health beds meant that fewer than 15% of patients were transferred within 28 days.

For years, the Howard League has campaigned for an end to the practice of keeping mentally unwell people in prison as a ‘place of safety’ or for their ‘own protection’. In 2022, the government published a draft Mental Health Bill, which would have introduced these long-awaited reforms and a statutory 28-day limit for transfers. But the bill was not included in the King’s Speech last year.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This distressing report sets out precisely why the Howard League has long campaigned for an end to the archaic practice of sending acutely unwell people to prison as a ‘place of safety’ or for their ‘own protection’.

“It is a national emergency – and a national scandal – that patients in need of urgent help are being kept in squalid prisons when they ought to be in hospital beds.

“The government must act now to save lives. Resurrecting the draft Mental Health Bill would be an important step towards a more humane criminal justice system.” 

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. A thematic review of delays in the transfer of mentally unwell prisoners is available on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  3. In July 2022, Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.) wrote a blogpost about the positive changes the draft Mental Health Bill would bring if enacted. The blogpost can be found on the Howard League website.


Noor Khan
Press and Public Affairs Officer
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873

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