People in contact with the criminal justice system suffer from some of the starkest health inequalities in the country, with higher health needs and poorer health outcomes than the general population. Many in this group engage in high risk behaviour, have limited contact with primary care services and do not manage existing health issues effectively. They are over represented in the use of emergency services, resulting in greater cost to the system and less positive outcomes.
Self inflicted deaths are five times more likely in prison than in the general population. 15% of men and 25% of women in prison report symptoms of psychosis, compared to just 4% of the general public. Nearly a third have a learning disability or difficulty. 80% of older people in prison are estimated to have a long standing illness or disability. In a 2009-10 study, 35% of adults starting community orders reported having a formal diagnosis of a mental health problem. Of those who received a formal assessment, 32% were identified as having a drug misuse need and 38% an alcohol problem.
These health inequalities intersect with other disparities faced by people in the criminal justice system. For example, people from black and minority ethnic communities, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, are 40% more likely than non BAME people to access mental health services via a criminal justice route, but underrepresented in prison mental health caseloads. For people with multiple and complex needs, health is one of a number of vulnerabilities for which they will need holistic support.
Despite these high levels of need, they are less likely to access mainstream health services. When they do, they may have to overcome stigma and other barriers in order to access the care they need.
Organisations tell us that the mental health needs of their clients are becoming more acute as a result of not being able to access the support they need from community mental health providers, who have either reduced their services or have raised their threshold for services.
This can have a big impact on voluntary organisations, who are increasingly required to meet the mental health needs of their clients, as the safety net provided by public services continues to reduce.
Health and offending are also often interrelated. Health issues such as substance misuse or mental health problems can lead to contact with the criminal justice system. Addressing the health needs of this group can reduce reoffending, and have a positive impact on the overall health of their communities.
Voluntary sector organisations are key to providing effective health and social care for people in the criminal justice system. They play a vital role in reducing health inequalities. They work hand in hand with local health services to provide flexible, holistic support for people who face significant barriers to getting the health and care services they need. Our members continue to successfully develop and deliver flexible and person-centred approaches to supporting people who have offended and who wish to stop.
As well as delivering frontline health services, they support people to access and engage with health providers, provide holistic support, accompany people to appointments and assist them to understand and manage their health needs.
Are you looking for voluntary organisations working in health and justice? Browse our Directory of offender services.
Read Clinks case studies showcasing the innovative work of our members working in health and justice.
Advising the Ministry of Justice
Clinks provides the chair and secretariat for an advisory group to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group’s (RR3) purpose is to build a strong and effective partnership between the voluntary sector and the MoJ.
An RR3 special interest group on people at risk of suicide and self-harm met twice in late 2016 to discuss how to provide effective care and support for people at risk of suicide and self-harm when entering prison, in prison and on release. The group explored the role and contribution of the voluntary sector in providing care, as well as the challenges and barriers to effective care and support.