Mentally ill men are being kept in conditions as bad as “Victorian lunatic asylums”, the Government’s jails watchdog has warned – according to a London Evening Standard report on men with mental health problems in prison.
The news came on the same day that the UK’s Men’s Health Forum and the mental health charity Mind launched the first ever set of guidelines addressing the mental health needs of men and boys. The new joint report Delivering Male aims to remedy the fact that there has been no national men’s mental health strategy to mirror the one established for women.
Such a strategy could help to tackle the problems of mental health in the prison population where 95% of prisoners are male.
Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said he has seen male prisoners with mental health issues living in conditions that are “squalid” and “chaotic” and the experience had left him shocked and distressed.
He added that the sights he had witnessed during a visit to Brixton Prison had conjured up images of “Bedlam” — the nickname for London’s once notorious Bethlem Royal Hospital for the insane — and had left prison staff struggling to cope.
Mr Hardwick said: “It is the most distressing thing I have seen in all my time here.
“I went to Brixton and staff were at their wits’ end because there were relatively young people who had been sectioned, who were seriously ill, and there were no places in secure hospitals.
“There was a prisoner who was seriously ill, the prison knew it and the staff were doing their best, but they couldn’t move him because there was nowhere for him to go.
“He was obviously very ill, his cell was chaotic and squalid. Bedlam was what it looked like, if you imagine what it must have been like when they ran Victorian lunatic asylums.”
Mr Hardwick said he was not criticising staff at Brixton and warned that what he had witnessed at the jail, where about half a dozen seriously mentally ill men were awaiting secure hospital accommodation, was typical of other prisons.
He said the answer was to divert more mentally ill men from the prison system into specialist secure hospitals.
He added: “There are people who could be managed more effectively in the community than in prison, but we have got to make sure that community support is there.”
The number of people spending time in an NHS mental health hospital increased for the first time in five years in 2009/10 – most of these are men.