Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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c. How many people who offend have a mental health condition? - Film Clip

Film clip 2 (05:04 mins)

Three people talk about their experiences of having a mental health condition and how they came into contact with the criminal justice system. Steve has a diagnosis of depression, Leroy has a diagnosis of personality disorder and severe depression and a woman speaks about her experience of dual diagnosis (a mental health condition and drug addiction).

Mental health conditions are more common amongst people who offend than in the general population. Mental health conditions can contribute towards someone committing an offence.

Research in prisons has shown that adult prisoners experience a much higher rate of mental health conditions than the general population. For example:

  • 66% of prisoners have a personality disorder compared to 5% of the general population. 
  • 45% of prisoners have a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety compared to 14% of the general population (Centre for Mental Health, 2009). 
  • In 2013, 25% of women and 15% of men in prison reported symtoms indicative of psychosis (Ministry of Jutsice, 2013). The rate of psychosis in the general popultaion is around 4% (Wiles et al, 2006).

Some groups of prisoners are particularly vulnerable to mental health conditions. Rates amongst women prisoners are higher than for men. For example:

  • 33% of women prisoners reported having suicidal thoughts in the four weeks prior to custody, compared to 14% of male prisoners
  • 29% report ever having self-harmed, compared to 13% of male prisoners
  • 49% of women prisoners were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression, compared to 23% of male prisoners
  • 25% of women prisoners report symptoms indicative of psychosis, compared to 15% of male prisoners (Ministry of Justice, 2013)

Rates of mental health conditions amongst children who offend are around three times higher than within the general children’s population (Hagell, 2002; Chitsabesan et al 2006). Research shows that 43% of children on community orders have emotional and health needs. The rates amongst children in custody are even higher (Healthcare Commission, 2009).

Someone with a mental health condition may use drugs or alcohol to self medicate, to make the symptoms of mental illness and side effects of medication easier to manage. In some cases, using drugs or alcohol can increase someone’s risk of experiencing mental health conditions. If someone has a mental health condition and abuses drugs or alcohol this is known as dual diagnosis.

The number of incidents of self-harm (when a person hurts themselves deliberately) and self inflicted deaths has risen dramatically. For example:

  • In the period March 2013 – 2014, there were a total of 23, 478 incidents of self-harm in prisons, 756 more than in the previous 12 months (Ministry of Justice, 2014)
  • Women accounted for 26% of all incidents of self-harm in this 12 month period despite representing just 5% of the total prison population (Ministry of Justice 2014)
  • The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) has reported a 64% increase in self inflicted deaths in 2013-14
  • The suicide rate for men in prison is five times greater than that for men in the community (Prison Reform Trust Factfile, 2014).

Snapshot of offenders under supervision in one probation area:

  • 39% had a current mental health condition (personality disorder was the most common condition, followed by anxiety disorders)
  • 49% had a past or lifetime mental illness (mood disorders e.g. depression were the most common)
  • 72% had both a substance misuse problem and a current mental illness. Alcohol misuse was more common than drug abuse (Brooker et al, 2011).
“One of the problems I had was I didn’t notice I was unwell. The hallucinations and everything else gives you a positive vibe, I was hallucinating good things.” Leroy Simpson, Revolving Doors Service User Forum

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