The mentally ill should be in hospital, not in prison, says leading mental health lawyer following inquest on prison suicide

On the day that it was announced a record number of people killed themselves in prisons in England and Wales in 2016, a leading mental health lawyer declared “the mentally ill should be in hospital, not in prison”.

John Lancaster, a Senior Solicitor-Advocate with GHP Legal which has one of the largest mental health teams in North Wales, Shropshire and the north-west of England, was speaking after last Friday’s inquest findings of a vulnerable inmate at HMP Chelmsford in Essex who electrocuted himself in his cell last year. He said this was by no means an isolated case.

25-year old Dean Saunders had been arrested in December 2016 for stabbing his father, Mark, who was attempting to stop his son self-harming during a bout of paranoia. Last Friday an inquest jury found that Mr Saunders had been “let down” by both the prison and the mental health services.

Mr Lancaster said: “The system failed Dean Saunders. He should never have gone to prison in the first place. He should have gone straight to a psychiatric hospital. He was let down by all the services.”

Mr Lancaster, whose expertise and reputation as a respected authority on Mental Health, Deprivation of Liberty and Court of Protection matters has seen him invited to give training and speak on TV and Radio, publishes a newsletter on Deprivation of Liberty. He is also a Law Society panel member of the Mental Health Tribunal Accreditation Scheme.

“The privatised prison where Mr Saunders was being held in custody was understaffed and the staff were under-qualified to meet his needs.  NHS psychiatric services were stretched both in terms of staff and available beds; otherwise he would have been moved before his death.  His parents rightly feel let down.

“Whilst I haven’t personally seen anything like this, I know that daily decisions are being made for the mentally ill based on the scarcity of resources and not on their needs.  I can say, as can our criminal department, that the prisons contain a frightening and disproportionate number of mentally ill inmates.”

(Article published 27/01/2017)