Get out of Jail Free


I haven’t had much experience of working within the criminal law system but I noticed an article via Mental Patient about Town from the Independent which was depressingly unsurprising when it states that there are a growing number of people who are mentally ill within the prison system.

I suppose this begs a question about what purpose prison is serving as I generally see the role more about rehabilitation and re-education than punishment but that’s another question entirely and while there are services that do ‘in-reach’ work within prison – how much is followed up on release though is a different matter.

jail (zavtor@flickr)

A couple of years ago, I worked with a man who had been in one of the higher security jails in the UK a few years previous to my meeting him following a ‘racially motivated aggravated assault’.

I know I am not in the position to judge people but having read the details of the assault, it didn’t exactly make me warm to him automatically. Especially as the victim of the assault had been in her 80s – I know, a victim is a victim regardless of age but this was a particularly vulnerable person.

The court (aided, no doubt, by a forensic psychiatrist) had determined he required punishment rather than hospitalisation and that’s where he went but he needed some level of treatment.

He had been released from prison on appeal due to some issues about the legality of the conviction (the CPS solicitor had basically messed up)  that I didn’t really understand.

What I did understand was that he was happy to discuss this assault, he retained his inherently racist viewpoint and had sought and received  compensation from the government for unlawful imprisonment.

My reason for bringing this up is that he had been receiving treatment in prison. When he was released on appeal, because it was through the appeal process, he walked free from prison.

There is an automatic system of referral  from prison services to Community Services when someone is released from jail but when there is an appeal and someone just walks out of prison that same day there seemed to be no provision for follow up, or it didn’t happen in this case.

So, a couple of years later, when he was brought into hospital under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act I was asked to write his Social Circumstance Report for his Mental Health Review Tribunal appeal against the detention.

The MHRT were scathing in their remarks about the lack of follow up between his release from prison and his admission to hospital. And quite rightly.

As my manager said at the time said, rather cynically, he was a newspaper headline waiting to happen..

It is easy to see how it can happen and this situation was rather particular, but it is indicative of strains in the system where situations and a possible further detention in hospital could possibly have been avoided.