Reported by Eurekalert, the research has found that 40% to 90% of detainees in penal institutions worldwide suffer from some kind of mental illness

Co-editor of the new research and Assistant Professor, Maartje Krabbe has said it is “high time” the issue of mental health within prisons be addressed on a worldwide scale. Krabbe said:

“The numbers are so disproportionately high that mental health should be a dominant factor in our criminal justice system by now. And yet this is far from true: my analysis shows that the system fails this group on all fronts. There is often too little budget, inadequate mental health care and limited staff training.”

The issue of recidivism

Krabbe points out that the neglect of mental health as a key issue in our criminal justice systems across the globe, has a resulted in a cycle of constant repeat offending. Krabbe noted that, “Recidivism among former detainees with mental health problems is relatively high worldwide,” and that “Research shows that the costs of habitual repeat offending are often much higher than the costs of providing treatment and support to a prisoner with mental health problems.”

A violation of UN global treaties

“Prisoners have their freedom taken away, but that doesn’t mean they have no rights as psychiatric patients.”

Krabbe pointed out that the current system “violates” UN rules on human rights, that entitles prisoners to psychiatric treatment, in the same way they should be given treatment for any physiological ailment. However, “On a global scale…this requirement is very rarely met. Many people do not receive the treatment to which they are entitled.” Krabbe said, which in turn “makes their reintegration more difficult”.

What might be a solution?

The edited volume that Krabbe and his colleagues reviewed this research in addresses various issues with the international rules that are meant to protect prisoners, and highlighted where they fall down in practice.

Many of the issues prisoners displaying mental-ill health face, are as a result of the system not being designed for them. Krabbe said:

“Chile, Hungary and the United States, among others, report that prisoners with mental health problems are more likely to be mistreated by prison officials because they cannot keep up in the system. Greece, Hungary and Portugal report that prisoners with mental health problems are often incarcerated for much longer than necessary, for example because there is no other place for them. The WHO reports that in many countries prisons are ‘dumping grounds’ for people with mental health problems, including those who have not committed any crime.”

Krabbe and his team of researchers place a lot of emphasis on changes in policy and increased funding into mental health services within prisons. They also mention “expert staff” who are properly trained to manage and treat their symptoms. Investing in these changes will “reduce the costs of reintegration in the long term,” Krabbe said and finished by saying:

“It is above all, more humane, in line with human rights and contributing to a safe society.”