Research finds more chance of re-offending if mental health issues are present

  • Researchers are calling for a better diagnosis and treatment for offenders in prison, and after release, who have a mental illness.

    Research has found that ex-prisoners with mental health problems and drug and alcohol misuse are more likely to commit violent offences after release than other former prisoners, reports the Guardian. mentalhealth.jpg

    A study from Oxford University has raised concern among experts that may lead to assumptions that people with mental health problems are more prone to violence than others; however the authors have said that this interpretation is wrong. They are calling for a better diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues for offenders both in and out of prison, to reduce re-offending rates.

    Seena Fazel, lead author of the study and professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Oxford said: “One in seven prisoners has a psychotic illness or major depression and around one in five enters prison with clinically significant substance abuse disorders. “As these disorders are common and mostly treatable, better screening and mental health services before and after release are essential to prevent future violence and improve both public health and safety. A lot of people have been very cautious in this area not to place too much emphasis on mental health problems linked with reoffending risk.”

    Louis Appleby, national director for health and criminal justice and professor of psychiatry at the University of Manchester, and colleagues said nobody could disagree with the authors that better mental health care for prisoners and ex-offenders was needed.

    Treatment of mental illness might only be effective “if the poor housing, substance misuse or absence of a job that are so common in released prisoners are also addressed,” they said.

    “Governments and some justice agencies might be tempted by the simple message that the answers to issues in the criminal justice system lie with mental health services. Meanwhile, the claim that mental illness is a direct cause of violence will make uncomfortable reading in mental health. The implication of this study lies between the two: treatment of psychiatric disorders in prisons and on release is crucial, but will not be enough to bring about a major reduction in violent crime. Comprehensive packages of treatment and social support are needed that hold a therapeutic mirror to the complexity and adversity of offenders’ lives.”

    Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said a prisoner may get a few sessions of help but then the good was undone when they went back to their cell and were offered illegal drugs, or became suicidal. “You can treat people, but in the end a prison environment is so toxic and at the moment is so awful that having a few sessions of treatment is a sticking plaster on a major wound. A prison is not an environment to treat people. You don’t send people to prison for treatment or education. You should offer them treatment they need, but people who are ill should not be in prison.”

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