Mental health problems in prisons in England and Wales

Mental health and prison


Mental health in prison is not a new issue. In 1780, a book called The State of Prisons in England & Wales noted that jails contained a number of “idiots and lunatics,” who if given appropriate care “might be restored to their senses and usefulness in life.”

The language is antiquated and considered offensive these days, but the sentiment remains the same. There are still many problems with mental health in prisons, which we will be looking at in future articles. But for now here are the important numbers.




  1. Over 90 per cent of prisoners have at least one of the following psychiatric disorders: psychosis, anxiety, depression, personality disorder, alcohol misuse and drug dependence. (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – NICE)
  2. 76 per cent of prisoners have two or more mental disorders. (NICE)
  3. 40 per cent of women compared with 20 per cent of men in prison have had treatment for a mental health problem in the 12 months before entering prison. (NICE) 
  4. Since June 2005 rates of self-harm by men have increased by 52 per cent, but for women, self-harm rates have fallen by 43 per cent in past three years. (Ministry of Justice)
  5. Despite large falls over recent years, women still account for a disproportionate amount of self-harm: 26 per cent of incidents, but only 5 per cent of the prison population [June 2014] (Ministry of Justice)
  6. 25 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis. The rate among the UK general public is about 4 per cent. (Ministry of Justice)
  7. 49 per cent of women and 23 per cent of male prisoners were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression. This can be compared with 16 per cent of the general UK population (Ministry of Justice)
  8. An estimated 58 per cent of male remand prisoners, 64 per cent of male sentenced prisoners and 50 per cent of female prisoners have a personality disorder. This compares with 5 per cent of the general population. (NICE)
  9. 46 per cent of women prisoners reported having attempted suicide at some point in their lives. This is more than twice the rate of male prisoners  at 21 per cent and higher than in the general UK population at 6 per cent. (Ministry of Justice)
  10. The number of self-inflicted deaths within 48 hours of people leaving custody is the highest for 10 years and many of those involved appear to have had mental health problems. (HM Inspectorate of Prisons)



Source: Ministry of Justice

Source: Ministry of Justice


There is still no national blueprint for dealing with mental health issues in English & Welsh prisons. Care has improved a lot with the introduction of specialist teams in all prisons at the turn of the century. But training for staff, screening of new prisoners and follow-up care after release are all still unsatisfactory.

We will have more articles on mental health and drugs & alcohol soon. Did we miss anything important that you would like to know more about? If so, please let us know.


Mental health cartoon


TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk 
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/PrisonWatchUK


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