IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Report: Promoting and protecting offenders’mental health and wellbeing

24th August 2010

A recently published policy paper from the Centre for Mental Health, Promoting and protecting offenders’mental health and wellbeing, shines an investigative light on the high incidence of poor mental health among offenders.

The findings in the report paint a startling picture of the relationship between offending and mental illness: Two-thirds of those in prison in England and Wales have two or more mental disorders, and 20% of prisoners have 4 or 5 major mental health disorders.

The risk of becoming an offender often begins early in life, and increases during childhood due to a complex myriad of contributory factors, such as poverty, social exclusion, deprivation, poor education and qualifications, learning difficulties or having a family with a history of being involved with the criminal justice system. The report found that those held in prison present a history of multiple risk factors which seems to tip the balance towards inevitable outcomes of diminished mental health and a long-term association with the criminal justice system.

However, decreasing any of these risk factors will yield wide-ranging benefits for both the individual and society. By focusing instead on intervention programmes at a community and individual level and investing in initiatives for young and adult offenders has been shown to achieve statistically significant reductions in recidivism rates.

For this type of policy to operate the paper proposes "unlocking" the resources tied up in the criminal justice system. For example, capital that has been ring-fenced for prison building could be more effectively, and perhaps more profitably, invested in promoting the mental health of offenders and those at risk of offending. 

The paper shows us again that there is no one method that can solve crime. Instead the policy initiatives detailed here demonstrate that using multi-faceted evidence based approaches not only reduce crime and strengthen communities, but also accrue multiple financial benefits.

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