• Prisoners’ mental and physical health at historically low levels following Covid.
  • Families too often ‘locked out’ of the system, unable to support their loved ones who are unwell.
  • A more proactive role for families would save lives, as well as relieving pressure on the NHS and reducing reoffending.

Involving families more proactively in prisoners’ healthcare would reduce deaths in custody, relieve pressure on the NHS and the criminal justice system, and cut crime, according to a new report published today (3 February 2023).

Pact spoke to families caught up in the criminal justice system, asking them to discuss their experience of trying to support their loved-ones in prison.

The report ‘Nobody’s Listening’ finds that when families are involved in the process everyone benefits – prisoners, families, the criminal justice system and the NHS. When the system works well, it can have a positive impact on people’s health, allowing prisoners to access previously unavailable support.  

However, the report concludes that families and significant others are too often locked out of a system that doesn’t value their role as carers. This stores up a range of problems, the ripple effects of which are felt well beyond the prison gates.

Pact makes a series of recommendations to improve the way that healthcare providers and prisons can involve families more proactively. They include:

  • Diverting more appropriately risk-assessed people with mental health problems to community treatment and secure treatment settings;
  • Training for staff to ensure that they understand how to involve family members;
  • A single point of contact at every prison to champion the role of families in the healthcare process.

Andy Keen-Downs, Pact CEO, said:

“All the research and guidance stress the crucial role that families have in caring for loved ones who are ill. Families bring with them a wealth of experience and knowledge - they know what ‘well’ looks like and understand the subtle signs that someone is struggling.

“We found examples where the system works well and people’s health had improved while they were in prison. But all too often guidance about family involvement is simply not put into practice, leaving family members locked out, prisoners struggling, and a healthcare system under pressure.

“Ensuring that prisoners get access to the right healthcare isn’t just about doing the right thing - it creates safer prison regimes, reduces reoffending and relieves pressure on the NHS.”

The report also sets out some of the statistics that illustrate the extent of the health problems facing the prison population:   

  • Half of prisoners, and three in five female prisoners, have a mental health problem.
  • Rates of self-harm are near record levels – 684 incidents per 1,000 prisoners.
  • One in three prisoners has a serious drug addiction.
  • Prisoners have a life expectancy 20 years younger than the general population.

Read the report: www.prisonadvice.org.uk/nobodys-listening

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