5th August 2014 Human Rights of the Mentally Impaired in US Prisons

Prisons were not designed or equipped to hold the mentally ill. Unfortunately this is the case today. A lot of men and women who can't afford to go into support facilities or get treatment within their own home are swept into the criminal justice system after they have committed a crime.

Prisoners have such disorders as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression.

When mentally ill prisoners break the rules they are punished the same as any other prisoner and can be placed in supermaximum security. They can be in there for 23 to 24 hours a day in small cells.

This prolonged confinement can be psychologically harmful to any prisoner with the severity of the impact depending on the individual. This can provoke anxiety, depression and anger.

A story in the Belleville News Democrat profiled one prisoner with a well documented history of paranoid schizophrenia who was held in solitary for nearly six years, mutilating himself and smearing faeces on walls. Other prisoners reportedly cut themselves, eat their own flesh, attempt suicide, and engage in other behaviours consistent with suffering from serious and untreated or poorly treated mental illness.

Human rights experts have criticized prolonged solitary confinement that exists in US supermax prisons. In 2008, the Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that "the prolonged isolation of detainees may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and, in certain instances, may amount to torture." Based on his research, he found that the "key adverse factor of solitary confinement is that socially and psychologically meaningful contact is reduced to the absolute minimum, to a point that is insufficient for most detainees to remain mentally well functioning."

Most prisons in England and Wales are now served by a mental health in reach team. These are the realisation of the Government's intention to introduce mental health practitioners to support those prisoners with the most serious mental health problems (DH & HMPS, 2001), providing an equivalent function to community mental health teams . In reach teams are one of several new 'specialist' teams that have come in the wake of the recent reforms to mental health services. The creation of in reach teams is the most significant mental health development in prisons to date, and is quite unprecedented. But unlike the new teams in the community, such as assertive outreach, crisis resolution and early intervention in psychosis, there has been no implementation guidance nor

any 'evidence' (e.g. UK and international research evidence as has been available for assertive outreach and crisis resolution) to guide the teams and those commissioning them.

To help this revolving door system I feel awareness should be raised on this situation. More training should be offered to the police force and the justice office to be able to evaluate the abilities of the defendant to show they have a mental illness. This way a better process could be implemented to facilitate the Mentally Ill more appropriately.


Sara Wallworth BSc (Hons)
Client Liaison Officer. Industrial Disease Department.

Sara started working in Woodward Solicitors in March 2014 and has enjoyed working within the Noise and Induced Hearing Loss and Food Poisoning Team