Mental Health in Prisons

Member Profile

Christine Felix

In their 1964 annual report New Bridge drew attention to mental health in prison.

“Too often one discovers that the shelter of prison has masked a mental state so abnormal as to be on the borderline of certification . . . The question is whether grossly disturbed people should be found in prison at all. This in turn raises the question whether the Mental Health Service has the facilities to cope adequately with the numbers of people requiring psychiatric care if not psychiatric treatment. We in the New Bridge find too often when going through a case history that the man has for most of his life alternated between prison and mental hospital.”

The prison population that year was 29,600.

In 1998 Inside Time conducted a survey of 2,500 prisoners. Findings revealed nearly 4 out of 10 prisoners had not received an outside visit in the previous 3 months. An estimated 90% of prisoners were experiencing mental health problems.

The prison population that year had reached 65,299.

In 2017 the National Audit Office produced a report about mental health in prisons. The NAO found there is no good data on the prevalence of mental health problems in prison - the summary referred to the 1998 estimate.

  • 37% of people in prison report having mental health or well-being issues to HM Inspector of Prisons. The Inspectorate found 20% of prisoners at a large, local prison were receiving anti-psychotic drugs
  • 10% of the prison population were receiving treatment for mental health problems in March 2017
  • Self-harm in prison has increased by 73% since 2012
  • The number of self-inflicted deaths has risen by 97% in the same period

The prison population in December 2017 was 84,746. The number remained more or less constant since 2010 but has reduced a little recently. 

In its evaluation of befriending, New Bridge asked the people it supports about the impact of that support on their emotional health and wellbeing and 85% told us that their befriending relationships improve it. 


Being in contact with my befriender has changed my outlook on life. I tried to commit suicide this year - I was in a dark place. When she found out about it she didn’t judge me nor take pity. Instead she was willing to talk to me about what happened and what caused it which was a great help to me. Many thanks not just for being a befriender but for giving me a better outlook and for saving my life – truly

Christine Felix 

Share this page