Psychiatric disorders are common among male remand prisoners, many of whom have a serious mental illness, researchers said today.
At one prison, Durham, only a fraction of inmates with a mental disorder were recognised as being ill by medical staff, the researchers found.
A study covering 13 adult men's prisons and three young offenders' institutions in England and Wales diagnosed psychiatric disorder in 63% of the remand inmates. Substance misuse accounted for 38% of these cases.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, doctors from the London Institute of Psychiatry concluded: "Extrapolation of our results suggest that the remand population as a whole probably contains about 680 men who need transfer to hospital for psychiatric treatment, including about 380 prisoners with serious mental illness."
Psychoses - disorders like schizophrenia which prevent sufferers thinking rationally - were present in the prisoners at four or five times the level found in the general population.
The authors judged that 9% of the men in the study needed transfer to an NHS psychiatric bed outside prison.
The findings were backed up by the results of a second study, also published in the BMJ, which focused on Durham prison.
It showed that more than a quarter of male remand prisoners admitted to the jail had a serious mental disorder, but only a fraction were recognised by the prison medical staff.
Researchers from the Department of Forensic Psychiatry, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, identified 148 men as having one or more mental disorders on entering prison on remand.
Of these, only 34 had been identified by the prison reception screening as having mental disorders. Just six of the 24 men identified by the researchers as having acute psychosis were picked out by prison screening.
The researchers said only two fifths of remand prisoners who needed urgent psychiatric treatment were admitted to the prison hospital.
They added: "Not only is the prevalence of mental disorder, in particular severe mental illness, high in this population, but the numbers identified at reception are low and subsequent management in prison is poor."
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