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.

This is the conclusion and recommendation of a new report published by the Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact) a national charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families.

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.

The Rt Rev Richard Moth, Lead Bishop for Prisons at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, commended the report, saying: “I am pleased to welcome the publication of this new research by the Prison Advice and Care Trust. It reveals the central importance of family involvement in keeping prisoners safe and healthy and re-affirms the dignity of the human person and especially the importance of family relationships.

“Involving family members in prison healthcare reduces deaths in custody and makes our communities safer, yet much more needs to be done to ensure more proactive and positive family engagement. It is to be hoped that the Government will consider carefully the recommendations of this report.

“Pact is to be thanked for its continued dedication to improving conditions for prisoners and their families within our criminal justice system.”

* Read: Nobody’s Listening: What families say about prison healthcare here.

Sources: Prison Advice and Care Trust and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales