Today, the Health and Social Care Committee publishes a new report Prison Healthcare. The Committee’s report is welcome and timely, following as it does in the wake of reports from the Inspectorate, Ombudsman and in the media, all of which have highlighted healthcare as one of many problems currently affecting our prisons.
The health and care of prisoners is a public health issue
We are pleased to see the Committee puts our report Rebalancing Act at the front and centre of decision making. Based on the evidence we had submitted, the Committee highlights that the mortality rate of people in prison is 50% higher than the general population, reflecting the poor physical and mental health of prisoners and people in contact with the criminal justice system. The Committee also supports our view that this is often the result of, or is exacerbated by, early childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and trauma) social circumstances (problems with housing, domestic abuse and employment) and higher rates of smoking, alcohol and substance misuse.
We know that health inequalities in the criminal justice system are not just about prevalence of multiple problems, but also prevalence of multiple barriers to access services. We welcome the Committee’s recommendation that the Government must tackle ‘the cycle of disadvantage’ to reduce both health inequalities and to reduce reoffending.
Short prison sentences
The Committee supports the Female Offender Strategy and recommends an evaluation of how similar approaches could be introduced for those with complex needs who would otherwise be given short custodial sentences.
We know that short prison sentences are proven to be less effective at reducing reoffending than community sentences. They disrupt family ties, housing, employment and treatment programmes for example, but they do not provide any meaningful rehabilitation.
Revolving Doors has tested public support for more solution-focused approaches and 3 out of 4 members of the public think people with drug or alcohol addictions belong in treatment programmes instead of custody. That would be a helpful response for the two thirds of short sentence prisoners who have substance misuse problems.
We will continue to press for a new presumption in law against short sentences of less than 6 months. A new legal presumption commands the support of MPs, peers and Police and Crime Commissioners from across political parties, as well as forming an explicit recommendation of the Justice Select Committee’s latest report.