Living With Schizophrenia

Why do we throw people with schizophrenia into prison?

Posted: Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Figures released recently by the Prison Reform Trust reveal that around 15% of men and 25% of women confined in the UK prison system are suffering from psychosis. This amounts to around 5% of the schizophrenic population of the UK. So why is it that more than 100 years after the Victorians decided to stop putting people with mental illness into prison we appear to be turning the clock back? Why, in over 12,000 cases each year do we decide that the best available option for a seriously ill person is to confine them in a punitive system where they can be preyed upon by murderers and rapists?

The loss of inpatient beds in the Mental Health Service is certainly part of the picture. The Mental Health Service in the UK has lost around a quarter of its in-patient beds since 2000. This has partly been the result of spending cuts but it has also been fuelled by influential and vociferous lobby groups who campaign against psychiatric intervention and argue that mental health treatments are worse than the illness.

Another factor is that far too many people working in the mental health field are reluctant to discuss dangerous behaviour for fear of helping to fuel stigma against people with mental illness. This thinking is deeply flawed: what is needed here is an honest and transparent discussion about the problem of disturbed behaviour in schizophrenia.

All of these factors contribute to a system where disturbed behaviour is often allowed to go untreated and the criminal justice system is instead seen as the most appropriate option. But why do we think this way? Disturbed and dangerous behaviour is a feature of many health conditions from diabetes and autism to head injury and Alzheimers’ yet we would not suggest sending those groups to prison.

By confining so many people with serious mental illness in prison instead of in hospital where they belong we are setting the clock back 100 years. Access to health care should not be a privilege: it is a right and in a civilised society we owe it to people with schizophrenia, who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society, to see that they have access to high quality health care within the health system. And their challenging behaviour should be no greater an impediment to this than it is for any other group.

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27 Responses

  1. Marion Daley says:

    Hello. I have read your article and found it very interesting. I have been married to my husband for 17 years, for most of that time he has been on and off of his medication for schizophrenia. (religious) In 2014 we split up and he went to live in a shared accommodation. i could not really take any more of his erratic behavior as he was again off his medication.To cut a long story short, he was persecuted for his religious beliefs and threatened by house mates over a period of time. my husband killed one of his housemates as he felt threatened and vulnerable when sleeping as his medication Olanzapine made him sleep deeply and this is what made him feel vulnerable. the court suggested that this was premeditated, not so at all as my husband felt threatened. he was in a house full of drug addicts, not the place for him at all at that time, he was told by the person that he eventually killed that they would get him in his sleep!! I do not feel that my husband should have received a murder charge, manslaughter YES but not murder. my husband had no witnesses to help him out and he only had a lot of “hear say” evidence which they allowed in the court. it was said too that my husband used gym equipment and that he took it from his room and planted it in the kitchen to use to kill,again, not so as my husband did not have any gym equipment and it was in fact the persons who he killed!

    my husband should not be locked up 23 hours a day in prison, he should be getting the help that he desperately needs, he has been granted an appeal but this could take forever to go through!!

    just wondered what your thought are on this.

    kind regards

    • David Bell says:

      Thank you for your comments. Glad you found the article helpful. Unfortunately we are not able to comment on individual cases but what we were trying to draw attention to here is the way that people with mental illness who display disturbed and dangerous behaviour are treated by the system as criminals rather than being treated as seriously ill. The reasons for this are quite complex but we do feel that people with serious mental illness get a rough deal within the system as things stand. We have tried to cover the issue of dangerous behaviour on our website page http://livingwithschizophreniauk.org/advice-sheets/schizophrenia-and-dangerous-behaviour/. I hope that this is useful. We will be covering this issue again in the future.



      • Sujata rahi says:

        I want to talk anymore my relative. He is upset as his youthful years are getting wasted due to schizophrenia. Feels frustrated and wants respite. No advice is helping him. Can’t pursue what he wants to do.. Wants to do a lot but can’t. I feel bad but can’t help. Suggest ways to take him out of this painful condition.

        • David Bell says:

          Thank you for your message. Unfortunately we are not able to comment on individual cases. I was sorry to hear about your relative’s diagnosis but you are standing by him which is one of the most important things. Having understanding family and friends is absolutely key in coping with this cruel condition that is isolating in so many ways. This isn’t easy for families as they rarely have any training in helping people with mental illness and it all has to be learnt as they go along.
          You may find our page for carers useful: http://livingwithschizophreniauk.org/advice-sheets/advice-carers/. This was written by a father who has been looking after his son with schizophrenia for many years and gives some useful principles.

          You may also like to obtain a copy of The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia by Mueser and Gingerich. Although this is written mainly for the US audience it contains much useful advice for carers and relatives. You should be able to get it on Amazon.

          I hope this is helpful

          Living with Schizophrenia

    • James W Cole, MD says:

      Please read my book, Length of Stay psychiatric case studies. It covers your husbands issue. I am so sorry for how he is being treated.

    • Diane Schoonmaker says:

      My son is now 41 years old he has been extremely critical for at least the past seven years they put him in a hospital stabilize him and then sent him to jail for years and years now I have been asking the Lord to help heal my son’s brain so he can have a happy normal life but now I only pray to God to please take him home so he no longer has to suffer he is homeless on the streets with schizophrenia he has been hospitalized three times in the last five weeks he is kept overnight and then let go he is now in violation of parole for not making contact with his parole officer so now they are looking for him to pick him up and put him back in jail when I spoke with his parole officer I was told my son has to get a place to live with an address and turn it into parole office I asked his parole officer how is my son supposed to do that when he is severe schizophrenia with no job and no way to get a job the parole officer simply stated that’s not his problem it is my son’s problem and he has to do it I’m starting to think I am the one with a mental illness between the legal system and our mental health system I no longer say it’s a bad system I now say we have no system a few years back I’ve had to call an ambulance for him again and they put him in a seven-day coma told me I had to fill out paper to 302 him he was very severe. days later he was physically fine but they could not find a mental health bed for him so they put him out on the street when I got paperwork in the mail it actually said 302 was not necessary and that he was fine now this was a psychiatrist that told me to 302 him that he was critical 7 Day medically induced coma sounds pretty darn critical to me but the insurance said put him out that is what I am assuming it’s what they basically hinted towards. Anyway I tried to be a Christian with faith but I have lost a lot of my faith over the yrs now. And as I said I no longer ask for God to heal his mind I asked God to take him home

  2. Sujata rahi says:

    I want to talk anymore my relative. He is upset as his youthful years are getting wasted due to schizophrenia. Feels frustrated and wants respite. No advice is helping him. Can’t pursue what he wants to do.. Wants to do a lot but can’t. I feel bad but can’t help. Suggest ways to take him out of this painful condition.

  3. James W Cole, MD says:

    This is well written material! I too am diligently working with the schizophrenic population. Many things can be done but often go overlooked. I have worked as a psychiatrist for well over 40 years. I know ways that we can improve their lives! In fact, I just published a book on the subject and now I am placing it on Amazon.
    It is entitled “Length of Stay psychiatric case studies” by James W. Cole MD. If we all work together we can ease the pain and suffering which goes hand in hand with improper incarceration, improper diagnosis and money spent incorrectly.

    • David Bell says:

      Many thanks for your encouraging comments Dr Cole. It is very gratifying to have professionals recognise what we do here: we are all volunteers. I am glad that you found our site useful. A lot of work has gone into it but we are very aware that it is still very much a work-in-progress and there is still much more to be covered. We are currently working on a section about famous people with schizophrenia and next year we will be adding a section all about talking therapies. If you like to drop me an email to LWS.org@btinternet.com I will be pleased to add your details to our mailing list. Best, David. Director.

  4. Belinda Harris says:

    I am so glad to see that this is finally getting more recognition. We have to keep advocating for change for our loved ones!

  5. elizabeth murrell says:

    I was guardian of my brother with schizophrenia and his care giver for 15 years. When our father died my siblings sued me for guardianship and lied in court claiming expertise they never had. One brother, claimed he went to Harvard, did research on schizophrenia and that schizophrenics get worse and worse due to brain damage. I have three siblings that have now taken me to court out of delusional beliefs and hatred. It would have been helpful if our whole family had been treated. My father had a problem telling the truth. Three took his route and continued the family curse to the next generation.

    The schizophrenic brother is the sane one. I knew dad was sick. I am the oldest. The schizophrenic is bright with a patent. I am trying to get him emancipated.

  6. Bibi mariam ullah says:

    I have a son suffer from paranoid shzcophernia the hmp leicester prison send him to prison because he damage the window he suffer from mental health they suppose to send him to mental hospital not jail please can you help me Mohammed he suffer from mental problem and they throw him in jailpleade help him

  7. My son suffers with drug induced schizophrenia says:

    My son suffers with drug induced schizophrenia and is in and out of prison I dont think this is the best way for him he is only 29 and has suffered many set backs in his life losing his dad in 2004.
    He was diagnosed with aged when he was 7yrs old but no one believed in this condition so no helped him since he was 9ys old he has got in trouble with the police and then continued upto he was old enough to go to prison still no help from anyone they did give him somthing to calm him but he felt like a zombie so refused to take, and prison are still getting drugs smuggled in. I believe my son should be put in secure rehab not prison as it’s the drugs that are helping him commit these crimes and he doesnt remember some things that has happened and breaks down and cries please help me

    • David Bell says:

      Good afternoon, I have replied to this comment by email for the sake of confidentiality. David, Website Editor.

    • Hilary Ellis says:

      My son is currently in prison and due for release on 15/06/2022. He is 35 now and from the day he was born I knew he must have had some type of damage to his brain because his feet were purple due to lack of oxygen when I was in labour. Fast forward through the years and a diagnosis of schizophrenia was finally given after spending time in and out of prison. I have BPD and it’s getting worse the nearer his release date because I want to help him but I’m also scared that he will go off his meds or commit a crime just because he is institutionalised as far as I can tell. I love him but I have also on occasion wished God to take him home so that he is no longer in pain and admittedly in a selfish way to help me no longer have to constantly worry about him. I need to find him permanent accommodation when he is released because I don’t have a permanent place for him in my home, it’s too small but he will be with me hopefully short term. I want him to have his own place where he feels like a human with the right to have a life if he chooses the right path. He has a family that are willing to build bridges, i just need help to get him help.

  8. Aurora says:

    Please help my brother has severe schitzophrenia, he is incarcerated at St Lucie county Jail Florida. He has NO sense of reality, The prosecutor wants to give him 5 yrs in jail for violation of probation ( he called police that his house was being robbed, it wasn’t. They asked for ID & he showed his revoked license. That is his charge, please help me to get him in a hospital & out of jail.

  9. Carrie Frederick says:

    My son is in Apalachee prison in Fla. been diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19 and has drug and alcohol addiction. He seems to get more inside than when he was out. The inmates are taking advantage of him because he has a mind of a child and he is 40 years old. When I ask then to place him in medical they say he is fine and nothing is done. From the sound of his voice his meds are off when he calls no real conversation with him just mumbling off the wall chatter. Please give advice if can. Thank you very concerned mom.

  10. ruth carey says:

    It has been 17 years of dealing with a loved ones sickness and no matter how hard we try as a family to help him it feels as if he is so distant, far away out of reach. I am sure our story is the same like millions out there but our family is really digging deep for some real help for him. We have been back and forth with doctors, therapy, counselors and he now has resorted down to drugs and it feels even harder now to bring him back to some type of normalcy even though we understand he may not ever be normal even with medication. We now find ourselves in a situation where he has gone to jail and is now on probation and it feels like we will lose him to this sickness. He will not be able to help himself and end up in jail again where we really cannot help him. Our family is so worried about him everynight since he thinks his friends out in the streets are his family now we have to stress wondering everynight if he is okay, if he will get into trouble or even picked up again from the police and end up right back in jail. It feels like theres not much anyone can do for him. He literally came home from being in jail and went straight out to the street again within just a couple of hours from returning home without any care that he will end up right back in jail where we feel is just not for any mentally ill person. Jail isn’t for him but the way that the system works it becomes just how they handle it. How can we fight for him? how can we get involved to spread awareness so that we can have more help to provide more medical beds for schizophrenics. Jail is not for them. Please provide any type of help or assistance. we have tried reaching out to all sorts of programs to help him but we keep getting absolutely no where for any help or assistance with him. Came across this site and became hopeful as much of the responses I have read from you seem to be very in tune with what we go through everyday wtih our schizophrenic loved one. please help. Thank you!

    • David Bell says:

      I have replied to this comment by email for the sake of confidentiality. David. Website Editor.

    • Cara says:

      This story is similar to my brothers. He is about to turn 30, he has spent the past 4 years in prison in Oklahoma. My father and I have tried helping him in the past unfortunately we come to a brick wall every single time due to the confidentiality and state/ federal regulations: at least that is what we are told every single time because he is an adult. He was released on Friday and committed the exact same crime after being turned away from the halfway house he was supposed to be at. We were never contacted and never even had a chance to see it help him. Please help

  11. Ms Diane Patterson says:

    Can anyone give me sim helpful Advise as son had been diagnosed with having bipolar as well as schizophrenia. And wrongly imprisoned.
    Is there’s anything I can do. As he has no support from no one.

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