The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) have published a briefing on Mental health concerns in woman’s prisons which has emphasised concerns surrounding the practice of sending women to prison as ‘a place of safety’ under the Mental Health Act or for their ‘own protection’ under the Bail Act.
IMBs monitor and report on the standards and treatment of those detained in prisons across England and Wales and have repeatedly expressed concern over the high level of mental health problems and instances of self-harm in women’s prisons.
The Mental Health Bill currently before Parliament proposes to curtail the courts power to send vulnerable women to prison solely on the grounds of the mental health state. However, despite ongoing debate to reform these practices, the IMBs have found that the number of mentally unwell women held in prison has actually increased.
The report found that between 1 August 2021 and 31 August 2022, the courts sent 75 women to HMP Bronzefield on mental health grounds, an increase from 28 women in the period between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021. The Board at HMP Styal was made aware of an incident when a woman was imprisoned for having no fixed abode because there was no psychiatric intensive care bed available in the community.
Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Andrea Coomber ,said: ‘This briefing shows the effects of the archaic legislation which allows courts to send mentally unwell women to prison. Prisons are not healthy environments for these women and do not provide the help these women need. Women that are in a state of mental crisis require help and support, not weeks or months in an overcrowded prison.’
‘The use of prison to secure protection and welfare in any circumstance is wrong in principle and ineffective, even damaging, in practice. It is crucial that legislation under the draft Mental Health Bill to end these practices is advanced and implemented, before even more women are made to suffer under these provisions.’