Mental Health In Prisons by Sophie Walker

Article by: Sophie Walker, crime and prison law barrister at One Pump Court

My work in the criminal justice system stretches from cradle to grave: I work with pregnant women and new mothers facing custodial sentences, young defendants in youth offender institutions and older prisoners who have spent decades inside. I also represent bereaved families at inquests whose loved ones have died in prison or while on probation, as a result of mental health issues. If there is one thing that unites these people, it is that they entered the criminal justice system in poor mental health, and left it worse.  

I was recently instructed in an inquest on behalf of a family whose loved one died on the day of his release. A report from his treating psychiatrist in prison outlined his reasons for prescribing him a strong anti-psychotic drug during his prison sentence. They explained that it is common for prisoners to start experiencing psychosis despite not having any underlying mental health disorders like schizophrenia. In other words, the experience of incarceration can seriously impact a prisoner’s mental health.