Stradishall: Justice system failing mentally ill prisoners

AN independent review of a Suffolk prison has highlighted “grave concerns” about the way inmates with severe mental health problems are treated.

The annual Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) report of HMP Highpoint (North and South) suggests that vulnerable prisoners face segregation and long delays before being provided with specialist care.

The watchdog also found that foreign nationals, who constitute 22% of the Stradishall prison’s population, are sometimes held beyond their sentence while they await a decision on deportation.

The report, which describes the slow treatment of inmates with mental health issues as “intolerable”, revealed that last year 10 prisoners were sectioned out of the prison with four of those being kept in segregation for an average of 46 days after the need to transfer was identified.

Susan Feary, vice chair of Highpoint (IMB) said: “It has been a concern nationally about the holding of prisoners with quite serious mental health problems. It often means they get segregated.

“It is the criminal justice system that is failing them as a whole, because these problems should have been picked up before these people get into a prison – either in the police cells or even before they are arrested by medical health teams in the community.”

Mrs Feary said the IMB believed also believed that holding foreign nationals beyond their sentence while awaiting action from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) on deportation created “anxiety and resentment.”

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Mrs Feary added: “There are financial implications too. The taxpayer is paying for men to be kept in prision when they shouldn’t be there.”

Overall the IMB commended the commitment of staff in running a “safe and decent” establishment but raised concerns about how savings, called for by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) could impact on front line staff.

A spokeswoman for the MOJ said: “We will respond to the IMB report for HMP Highpoint in due course.

“We’re determined to make prisons places of meaningful work and training, where many more prisoners work for up to 40 hours a week, and possibly beyond.”

A spokesman for the UKBA said: “We are carefully considering the contents of the report and have responded on the specific issues raised.

“Foreign nationals who abuse the privilege of coming to the UK by breaking our laws should be removed from the country at the earliest opportunity. We now routinely consider deportation up to 18 months before the conclusion of a sentence allowing us to remove foreign criminals more quickly. Last year we removed over 4,500 foreign criminals.

“Deportation can be delayed for many reasons, including legal challenges and a lack of co-operation by the offender and their home government in obtaining essential travel documents. In such cases an extended period of detention is sometimes needed.”

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