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The Failure Of Care

The prison service is still mopping up the failures of the care and education system. Many who find themselves caught up in crime face enormous problems:
* Half of all prisoners have a history of running away from home
* Almost a third spent time as children in care

Physical and mental health can be a key determinant as to whether someone offends. In addition, the physical and mental health of prisoners is generally much worse than that of the general population. The Social Exclusion Unit's report on reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners set out the scale of the problem, examined the causes and made recommendations about ways to make the system work better.

Chapter Two of the report (p. 20 onwards) looks at types of disadvantage and poor prospects that prisoners often face, both before and after (re)conviction. For example, 70% of female sentenced prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders, compared to 2% of women in the general population. Likewise, 44% of male sentenced prisoners suffer from three or more mental disorders, compared to 1% of the male general population. (p. 22 - para 2.7). Up to 95% of young prisoners aged 15 to 21 suffer from a mental disorder. Around 80% suffer from at least two. (p. 72). Among sentenced male prisoners aged 18-49, 46% suffer from a long-standing illness or disability, compared to 29% of men in the general population from the same age group. (p. 23 - para 2.8). Around two-thirds of prisoners use illegal drugs in the year before imprisonment - at least double the general population aged between 16 and 29. (p. 64)

Whilst prison can be an effective initial route into mental health and drug treatment services, imprisonment can exacerbate prisoners' current conditions, or generate new ones. (p. 40) The report also finds that those who suffer from both mental health problems and a drug/alcohol addiction can often be very badly served (p. 73 - para 10.24). Lack of follow-up health care post-release is also seen as prevalent for the majority of prisoners. (p.78 - para 10.36). The report argues that many prisoners would be better served by improved referral to specialist mental health and drug treatment services as part of their punishment (p. 122 - para 16.5).

Chapter 18 of the report recommends a series of actions to improve the life chances of ex-prisoners: for example, including statutory agencies involved with health, education, and drugs within the planning, development and implementation of the proposed National Strategy (p. 137 - para 18.23).


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