Scots remand prisoners suffering from ‘significantly’ worse mental wellbeing

Remand prisoners are more likely to suffer from poor mental health than other offenders in jail.

Researchers also called for more support for them after finding they suffered “significantly poorer mental wellbeing” in the first study of its kind.

It comes as the number of people caged on remand soared in Scotland during the pandemic.

New research looked at the mental wellbeing ­– related to mental illness but more a measure of how people cope with stress – in the country’s 15 jails since 2013.

An estimated 14 per cent of people in Scottish jails have a history of psychiatric disorder with more than seven per cent self-harming.

New BBC drama Time, penned by award-winning writer Jimmy McGovern and starring Sean Bean and Stephen Graham, shows the fragile mental state of prisoners, with claims some should be in psychiatric units instead of jail.

Sean Bean stars in new BBC drama Time

A Glasgow University study, published last week in the Journal of Public Health, also found repeat offenders had poor mental wellbeing.

It said: “Our findings of particularly poor mental wellbeing among people on remand are notable given concerns about its overuse and reports of poor conditions, including restricted access to support services and limited opportunities for purposeful activity.

“Similarly, the association between multiple previous prison episodes and poor wellbeing adds to evidence that repeated short prison sentences are disruptive to family and community life, employment prospects and stable
housing and are an important risk factor for mortality after release.

“In this context, proposals by the Scottish Government to extend the presumption against custodial sentences of 12 months or less may have positive impacts on the health of people involved in the justice system.”

Lead author Dr Emily Tweed, of Glasgow University, said: “There is a body of evidence that suggests remand prisoners suffer poorer outcomes when they leave jail.

“We need to ask if we are using remand in the right way. Remand prisoners miss out on things like work and courses inside prison and that seems to have an impact on their mental wellbeing.”

Last month a leading prison reform charity found the number of prisoners on remand in Scotland had increased to “scandalous”
levels during the pandemic.

Howard League Scotland said nearly one in four prisoners in jail was on remand. In February 2020 the number was less than one in six.

Emma Jardine, of the charity, said: “Many people arrive in prison on remand, not having expected to find themselves there. There’s no requirement for people on remand to undertake any work and they’ll spend even longer than convicted prisoners in cells – up to 23 hours a day in many instances during the pandemic.”

The Scottish Prison Service said: “Prisoners on remand can suffer a stressful experience. That is why we take steps with the NHS to ensure needs are assessed on entering the prison system.”

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