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UK: inadequate stats on mental health are failing prisoners

The last reliable data on prevalence of offender mental health problems is from 1998, when the prison population was about half what it is today.

The most vulnerable people in prison

Prisoners are among the most vulnerable people with mental health problems, yet the government does not collect even basic information on how many inmates have a mental illness, or the total number in need of treatment. This means, according to campaigners, that they are being repeatedly let down by the system.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report highlighted the stark lack of data, triggering serious questions about the government’s commitment to prisoners’ mental healthcare.

A serious lack of data

The report states that despite evidence of a high prevalence of mental ill health in the prison population, not only does the government not know how many of England and Wales’ 85,000-plus inmates have a mental health condition, ministers are unable to pinpoint how much is being spent on mental healthcare.

This lack of robust data is a significant stumbling block to improving provision,

the report concludes. It highlights that data compiled by NHS England, responsible for delivering health services in English prisons, does not track “outcomes for prisoners, continuity of care, or service quality”, which makes it difficult to calculate or assess need.

What data exists is not shared sufficiently between the bodies that coordinate or deliver services within the adult prison estate, namely NHS England, the National Offender Management Service and Public Health England.

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