Intended for healthcare professionals

Medical Practice

Mentally abnormal prisoners on remand: I—Rejected or accepted by the NHS?

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1988; 296 doi: (Published 25 June 1988) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1988;296:1779
  1. Jeremy W Coid


    Increasing numbers of mentally abnormal offenders are sentenced to prison. The decision to treat or imprison them is influenced by the attitudes of consultant psychiatrists and their staff. The process whereby those decisions were made and the willingness of consultants to offer treatment were investigated. A retrospective survey of all (362) mentally abnormal men remanded to Winchester prison for psychiatric reports over the five years 1979-83 showed that one in five were rejected for treatment by the NHS consultant psychiatrist responsible for their care. Those with mental handicaps, organic brain damage, or a chronic psychotic illness rendering them unable to cope independently in the community were the most likely to be rejected. They posed the least threat to the community in terms of their criminal behaviour yet were more likely to be sentenced to imprisonment. Such subjects were commonly described by consultants as too disturbed or potentially dangerous to be admitted to hospital or as criminals and unsuitable for treatment. Consultants in mental hospitals were most likely and those in district general hospitals and academic units least likely to accept prisoners.

    The fact that many mentally ill and mentally handicapped patients can receive adequate care and treatment only on reception into prison raises serious questions about the adequacy of current management policies and the range of facilities provided by regional health authorities.