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Mental Health In Prisons by Sophie Walker

Article by: Sophie Walker, crime and prison law barrister at One Pump Court

My work in the criminal justice system stretches from cradle to grave: I work with pregnant women and new mothers facing custodial sentences, young defendants in youth offender institutions and older prisoners who have spent decades inside. I also represent bereaved families at inquests whose loved ones have died in prison or while on probation, as a result of mental health issues. If there is one thing that unites these people, it is that they entered the criminal justice system in poor mental health, and left it worse.  

I was recently instructed in an inquest on behalf of a family whose loved one died on the day of his release. A report from his treating psychiatrist in prison outlined his reasons for prescribing him a strong anti-psychotic drug during his prison sentence. They explained that it is common for prisoners to start experiencing psychosis despite not having any underlying mental health disorders like schizophrenia. In other words, the experience of incarceration can seriously impact a prisoner’s mental health. 

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Ensuring a clean and safe environment

While prisons exist to help rehabilitate people who have committed a crime or hold those awaiting trial, prisoners still have basic rights to a clean and hygienic habitation. Regular cleaning of prison areas is an important task, especially when you consider how many people live and work within prison environments. The UK’s current prison population is approximately 83,000, with around 35,000 employees keeping these facilities running as smoothly as possible. 

While frequent cleaning forms part of the day-to-day management of these buildings, specialist deep cleaning is also required to prevent the spread of disease and ensure the area is fully disinfected for both inmates and staff.

Deep cleaning 

The build-up of general grime and obvious dirt may be removed as part of a regular cleaning regime, but beneath the surface, unseen deposits and microscopic bacteria and pathogens can accumulate.

This is where employing industrial cleaning experts can complement daily cleaning routines, as they will have access to resources such as clinical grade disinfectants, high level cleaning equipment and specialist fogging as part of their armoury.  ULV Fogging, for example, works by generating a mist of disinfectant, which settles on top of, underneath and on the sides of objects, furniture and hard-to-reach areas - ideal for ensuring every surface is covered. 

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Richard Helson of Chorus Intelligence on county lines crime

Richard Helson, customer relationship director at Chorus Intelligence, tells Custodial Review about the need to change tack which it comes to tackling county lines crime…

A recent report by the Public Accounts Select Committee concluded that the police are taking longer to charge suspects, with fewer arrests and reduced numbers of patrol officers. On top of this, we are fighting against growth in the use of technology, by criminals.

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Andy Robertson at the prison escape in Peterhead Prison

Andy Robertson, an escape artist whose specialty is escaping from locked prison cells, offers an insight into getting out of "impossible" situations…

Prison escapes in the UK are rare – but then how have so many prisoners over the years escaped out of seemingly high-security prisons all from the UK and other parts of the world? That’s the question that intrigued me, I had to know how they were getting out and whether it was by flaws in security, or skill, or just plain luck! 

Over many years I studied locks and doors used as well as the old and modern type prison and jail buildings. I spoke to many people from prison historians to those who were presently in the profession linked to prison security.  I also learned the skills and knowledge as an escape artist over many years from fellow escape artists, finally in 2017 I had the ability to escape any prison and I was soon to be challenged to prove it.

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The Headway brain injury ambassador Dominic Hurley speaks to Prince Harry

Brain injury charity Headway support people in the community following head traumas. Here, we speak to Headway’s James Coxon about the charity’s ID cards which can help aid communication between the brain injury survivor and police officers…

Headway – the brain injury association supports people affected by acquired brain injury through a wide range of services, including rehabilitation programmes, carer support, social re-integration, community outreach and respite care.

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Tim Tate on rehabilitating sex offenders

Tim Tate is an author, investigative journalist and filmmaker who worker with the late Ray Wyre – a pioneer in treatment of child sex offenders. Here, Tim describes how Ray’s work challenged the lack of rehabilitation options for paedophiles and asks if the current system is doing enough to protect children from abuse…

For someone whose work would become so influential, Ray Wyre’s introduction to sex offenders was surprisingly accidental.

In 1981, three years after joining the Probation Service, he was transferred to Albany, the high security facility on the Isle of Wight: here, by chance, he was assigned to the E Wing, which then housed 36 sex offenders in segregation from the rest of the prison’s population.

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Waterside Press: Michael Crowley's The Stony Ground

Despite financial cut-backs, the creative side of prison life always seems to win through. Events such as the annual Koestler Awards are evidence of this. So is the sterling work of, for example, Birmingham’s Geese Theatre, whose The Geese Theatre Handbook: Drama with Offenders and People at Risk has been a staple manual for trainers of all kinds since we had the privilege of working on it with them at the start of the millennium.

A similarly prized work is Michael Crowley’s Behind the Lines: Creative Writing with Offenders and People at Risk published in 2012. It shows how imaginative approaches to confronting offending behaviour – and imparting skills valuable on the outside – can have a real impact on whether someone returns to custody. Michael is a seasoned advocate for improving literacy in the prison setting. Quite apart from giving presentations at establishments such as Bristol and Erlestoke, he was for six years writer in residence at Lancaster Farms (then a young offender institution). He also helped set up a residency at Arohata Women's Prison in New Zealand in 2014. 

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Sue Wheatcroft, blog author of 'My experience of mental health in prison', in red top with the rest of the Mental Health Together committee

The Custodial Review invites Sue Wheatcroft, a former inmate with a borderline personality disorder, to talk about mental health in prison. Here, Sue highlights the lack of resources available to prisoners who need mental health support and explains what she did about the problem on her release…

At the age of 55, I went to prison for the first time. I take full responsibility for the actions that led me there. However, I strongly believe that if I had received help from the mental health services, things would not have got so bad. I was desperate but received no help because I was ‘too ill to treat’. My story is not uncommon, and the more people who highlight what happens, the more chance there will be of changing attitudes and transforming the lives of people with mental illness.

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Lacie completed The Forward Trust prison programme

The Custodial Review spoke to Alex Viccars, Senior Research Officer at The Forward Trust, about the work the organising does to tackle substance addiction in prisons – including female prison HMP Send…

The Forward Trust (formerly RAPt) has been empowering people to break the cycles of addiction and crime and move forward with their lives for over 25 years. We currently deliver substance misuse services in 18 UK prisons and two community services, reaching over 15,000 service users each year. Peer role modelling and lived experience of crime and addiction sit at the heart of our treatment approach – with 1 peer supporter employed for every 4 staff members, and 30% of our workforce are in recovery from addiction.

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TempRocket - Andrew Johnston

It has arguably never been more difficult to find good temp workers thanks to a frustratingly inefficient and expensive recruitment process. However, help is at hand, says TempRocket’s Andrew Johnston…

It’s no secret that finding the right people to add to your team cannot only be a very tough task, but also annoyingly time consuming and expensive, whether you’re recruiting for the police, prison service or customer and immigration services. And this is especially the case when it comes to tracking down good temporary workers, because the process on this side of the recruitment sector is particularly inefficient.