Mental health in prison


Mental health in prison 

By Frankie Owens, author of The Little Book of Prison A Beginners Guide, introduced by Charlotte Fantelli, editor of MentalHealthy

MentalHealthy was recently approached by a chap called Frankie Owens, and on reading the email his story immediately captivated me. He told of his struggles with Hypermania and his experiences of prison life that led to him writing a critically acclaimed book. Below we publish his story and experience of mental health treatment in prison. Opinions are Frankie's.

Mental health behind bars

My name is Frankie Owens I have suffered from Hypermania part of the bipolar family for the last 17 years. I was prisoner A1443CA at Her Majesties pleasure; I was one of 87,000 others (give or take), safe to say that I was definitely just another number.

Prisons in the UK are struggling with all aspects of the running of these large institutions in the current climate. Interesting times for the sector as the threat of privatisation is becoming a reality that means massive reforms and savings to the taxpayer at the political end of the argument. At the coal face however prison staff now face less money, less holiday and more pension contributions for a worse final salary scheme oh yeah and they will have to work a few years longer.

So how do you feel as a prison officer, or screw as they are affectionately called? Suffice to say that the motivation of the staff within the prisons is at an all time low, budgets are slashed as prisoners are at an all time high a recipe for more misgivings, ever decreasing delivery of the prison compact and huge failure of duty of care to prisoners in general.

What it means for mental health

So what lies in store for the growing number of mentally ill prisoners locked up in the wrong facility.....? In some cases so much neglect to their mental health that they may never recover the experience. I am sad to say I saw this with my own eyes.

Drug and alcohol detox prisoners were on the smallest wing, over the months I was there it was moved to one of the biggest as more dependent heroin addicts were given prison sentences. The healthcare needs were far over and above what the facilities and staff can handle.

Mental health treatment in prison

Nothing is joined up from your mental health history, there are 2 primary care trusts (PCT’s) that are contracted to the prison; one for mental health the other for conventional treatment. When I entered the prison I was met by a nurse who went through a basic assessment, not set up for addressing mental state or mental health history.

I explained my condition but the prison did not request my notes from my GP or the consultant I had worked with. You would expect a referral to the appropriate team, but this didn't happen.

As a new prisoner you are already in a state of shock and for those with mental illness it is scary and confusing.

Complaints unheard

The structure is further flawed as the prison is responsible to deliver the same healthcare, as you would find in the community. Complaints made to prison officers about healthcare are shrugged off as they are the responsibility of the primary care trust. Complaints go round and round or are referred to the wrong PCT  often without getting a satisfactory response as the PCT's are effectively a contractor working independently of the hierarchy and not accountable for issues within the service delivered to the prisoner.

I also found that in addition there were no longer prison Dr's that gain the invaluable experience of prison healthcare and identifying mental health issues. There are waiting lists once you request to see a doctor and often they are from separate PCT’s so there is no consistency in care.

You can complain through the healthcare protocols but these are desperately slow and in many cases by the time the complaint is addressed the prisoner has been moved on to another prison.

In need of reform

I was appalled by the system; I believe wholeheartedly it needs massive reform. Prisoners with mental ill health are forced to “ride the bang up”, find inner strength and discipline and continuously complain and make very load noises daily in the hope their problems will finally be identified and treated. Sadly many simply give up and get worse. I had to wait until release and finally when more hypermanic episodes led to more arrests; a massive cry for help, before I was sectioned and effectively treated.

My future

I started writing ‘The Little Book of Prison, A Beginners Guide’ to save my sanity. As I kept writing it occurred to me that this would be useful to first time offenders and the loved ones they left behind. It felt good to be writing something that would help people going through the most difficult time in their lives.

I now carry a yellow card that says mental health survivor, which makes me smirk, as I am exactly that. At the age of 37 years-new I have finally made sense of my life and the chaos of living with my conditions. I feel assured that this is all behind me and I can finally have a healthy, happy and stable future, which makes me smile.

Through the biggest challenges come the biggest rewards I am now an award winning published writer, something which makes me grin from ear to ear! Charles Bukowski once said “Some people never go crazy what uninteresting lives they must lead”.

Thank you to MentalHealthy for letting me share my experience with your readers.

The Little Book of Prison A Beginners Guide is available to order from

“If people are interested in what its like going to prison the book is for them, if people need to know what its like its definitely for them”

TWITTER - @FrankieOwensJnr


Your rating: None Average: 8 (4 votes)