Equality Behind Bars: The Rights of Prisoners with Mental Health Issues
By Sofhia Ramos, Work Experience Student
In the United Kingdom, one in four adults experience mental illness and for prisoners, 37% report of having mental health or well-being issues. Society may view prisoners as ‘emotionless’ due to the crimes they committed, but it turns out this is not the case. Being behind bars for mentally ill prisoners can often lead to an unsupported network system, whereby they get treated unjustly as compared to mentally healthy prisoners. Article 14 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that “… persons with disabilities [should not be] deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily… [and] the existence of a disability shall [not] justify a deprivation of liberty”. This means that all incarcerated people have the same rights to consultation and treatment as the general public.
The Mental Health Act independent review held that prisoners deserve to be accommodated in an environment which promotes their mental health and well being, at the very least does no harm. In a recent report made by the Ministry of Justice, there was a 23% increase in self-harm incidents in September 2017-2018, suggesting the prison environment is detrimental to the well being of those with mental health issues.
We are always concerned in doing what we can to help clients suffering with mental health illnesses behind bars but appreciate there often feels like a disconnect trying to get through to the healthcare teams to assess client needs. We have unfortunately been involved in Inquest cases where prisoners have taken their own lives despite signs for a‘cry for help’.
We hope this is a situation that improves as prison should serve to rehabilitate, as well as punish, those incarcerated, including those with mental health needs.