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Wednesday, October 05, 2005 

Prisons being used as a dumping ground for the mentally ill.

Nine out of 10 male prisoners have a mental disorder, the Zahid Mubarek inquiry was told today, on the last day of hearings.

The Zito Trust, which campaigns for better care for mentally ill people, told the inquiry that "prisons have become psychiatric asylums by default".

The trust's director, Michael Howlett, said in written evidence to an inquiry seminar today on the treatment of mentally disordered prisoners, that prisons are accommodating an increasing number of people with mental disorders.

He said: "Some 90% of the current male prison population is said to be suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder."

Mr Howlett blamed the shrinking number of psychiatric beds in the NHS, leaving treatment for people with mental problems or disorders to be attempted in prisons.

"We are now trying to rectify this by implementing NHS-style strategies in institutions which are not only over-crowded, but also culturally not necessarily sympathetic or receptive," he said.

Mr Howlett said a joint report from the Home Office and the Department of Health published in 1992 had said offenders with mental disorders should be treated by health and social services, not prison.

He also said that if Zahid Mubarek's murderer, Robert Stewart, had been given therapeutic help at an early age he may not have developed a "full-blown" psychopathic personality disorder.

Stewart was given life after bludgeoning Mr Mubarek to death in the cell they shared at Feltham young offenders institution in 2000.

The inquiry chairman, Mr Justice Keith, criticised the Prison Service's failure to ensure people with mental disorders were kept in segregated wings.

He said: "The increasing size of the prison population and the prevalence of offenders with mental disorders - whether mental illnesses or personality disorders - means that the overwhelming majority of prisoners with mental disorders are kept on ordinary location."

Mr Justice Keith is now hoping to complete his inquiry report by February when it will be submitted to ministers for their consideration.

Compare to this to what was said by the leading candidate for the Tory leadership:

Mr Davis received his loudest round of applause for the declaration: "We must take back control of our own borders."

He also echoed Michael Howard's famous declaration that "prison works" and ranged over his home affairs brief to attack the government on binge drinking and the downgrading of cannabis.

Like the other would-be leaders, he attacked Gordon Brown rather than Tony Blair. Joking that the chancellor was "not the sunniest character in British politics", he claimed that Mr Brown was "driven by a socialism that is out of date, out of time and out of place in today's world".

Promising not to "blow with every gust" or "junk policies" for the sake of convenience, Mr Davis declared: "I've set a course. It's a course that can unite all sections of this party. And I also believe it's the right course for Britain."

Oh yeah, prison works. It works as a place to put the mentally ill out of sight of the general public's eye, where they're forgotten about. It's handy for a government which is only interested in improving waiting lists and prescribing SSRIs to the depressed, rather than setting up counselling centres and building new pyschiatric wards, instead of closing down the few that are remaining.

The former weekend soldier also called the decision to downgrade cannabis to a Class C drug (an unarrestable offence, cautioned for first offence if openly smoking it in public) "stupid, dangerous and wrong". Yes, it was a stupid and wrong decision. It should have been decriminalised. With such men as Davis going to lead the Conservative party, Blair must be laughing. Unless the party decides to go with David Cameron (a young Etonian who wants to be the next Blair) or Kenneth Clarke (a veteran minister who if likeable and to the left of most Tories has some very dodgy business associates) then the Conservatives won't stand a chance in the 2013 election, let alone 2009.

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