Government urged to tackle mental health crisis in prisons

MPs and peers think the next government should treat “shocking” rise in prison self harm and suicides as key priority

Self-harm and suicides are on the rise in prisons in England and Wales, the latest figures show.

And a cross-bench group of MPs and peers think the next government must treat the “shocking” mental health crisis in the prison estate as a key priority.

A joint parliamentary committee on human rights urged the next justice secretary to put forward legislation creating a minimum ratio of prison officers to prisoners. They also recommended giving young offenders and prisoners with mental health issues free phone calls to loved ones.

There were just over 40,000 self-harm incidents last year

The latest official statistics show a total of 113 prisoners had killed themselves over the last 12 months, an increase compared with 102 the previous year.

There were just over 40,000 self-harm incidents last year, a record high and a 24% increase on the 32,000 incidents recorded the year before. Around 2,740 of those cases were required emergency treatment at hospital.

Labour MP Harriet Harman, committee chair, called it an “urgent” issue, and said the next government should try to “end the death toll of people with mental health conditions who take their own lives in our prisons.”

Prof Pamela Taylor, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, called for more prison officers and more trained psychiatrists to be able to provide “adequate mental health services…There are far too few for the high number of people in prison.”

The latest numbers show the total prison population in England and Wales stands at a record high of just over 85,500.