1. ITV Report

Prison mental health support: Ex-offender's plea to stop the cycle of re-offending

Prisons exist to protect the public and to help offenders turn away from crime. Every year thousands of criminals are jailed in London and thousands are released. So what really stops people re-offending once they're out?

Ria Chatterjee spoke to one former prisoner, a man convicted of manslaughter and served time. He claims the key to rehabilitation is mental health support.

While behind bars he says he received none and on release was offered none.

This lack of support, he believes, is why criminals go on to re-offend. London offenders aged between 18 and 20 have the highest re-offending rate in the country.

Ria Chatterjee speaking to a former prisoner about his experience of being behind bars

Ria Chatterjee: You're able to reflect, share your story and think about your experiences - how does it sit with you - the person who's not here anymore - can't do that?

There's nothing I can really do, it's obviously sad it's nothing that I wanted to happen. It's a sad thing - there's nothing more I can do except try to be a better person.

– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: Did it ever for you get to a point where it felt normal to be inside?

Yes, of course because there's nothing you can do except face what's in front of you.

It got to a point where freedom and my old life was a distant memory really. As time went on I became more robotic - desensitised - more hardened maybe less empathetic.

For me I know it in my heart I'm not going to reoffend. Not everybody is as motivated as myself so that's where the problem lies.

– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: Do you think currently there are very young people entering the prison system who aren't necessarily being rehabilitated in prison and maybe coming out in their twenties and potentially going back into that same cycle?

100%. During my time I saw people come in as petty criminals.

During my one stint I could see the same person three of four times - started off as a petty criminal, then it's a burglary, then it's armed robbery, then it could lead to whatever.

The systems in place are not there to help ex-convicts to prosper.

– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: What do you think needs to be happening in jail to make rehabilitation more successful?

It needs to be person-by-person basis. I feel it's so generic - what might work for one person might not work for another.

There's this blanket thing of 'you've done this crime... so have you... so it must be a similar reason, you've got to do this course and that course'.

But you don't know why he did this or why he did that. It may be the same offence but there are deeper issues why people do things.

Someone might have done a robbery because his mum's ill and you have to provide for the family.

Someone might have done a robbery because he just wants to get rich but it's the same crime.

– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: And what would you say to people who say the reasons haven't got anything to do with it - an individual makes a choice, they make that choice themselves and it's within their own power whether of not they choose to steal something from a shop or pick up a knife?

A lot of people are speaking from a position of luxury.

– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: Did you receive mental health support or therapy when you were in prison?


– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: Would you have wanted that?

Maybe at that time I wouldn't have wanted it - wouldn't have understood why I'm getting therapy but looking back at it now that's something that would 100% have helped because a lot of young people deal with a lot of trauma and there's a lot of PTSD.

There are a lot of people who've had friends murdered and seen their friends being murdered and you've just got to deal with it and just crack on.

– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: At the time you feel like you wouldn't have had therapy because it felt alien. Do you think that's something a lot of young men would relate to, this idea of I'm not sure about talking about my feelings?

I think it's something a lot of young men struggle to deal with, talking about their feelings. Whereas talking about your feelings will help and it's something that should be offered on release.

– Former prisoner

Ria Chatterjee: Why would it help?

Because prison is quite a traumatic experience.

– Former prisoner

In a statement the Ministry of Justice said increased support was available to vulnerable offenders - especially during the first hours and days in custody - and more had been invested in mental health awareness training for prison officers.

We have recruited an additional 4,400 officers since 2016 to help give every prisoner a dedicated key worker.

Additionally, we have trained more than 25,000 staff in suicide and self-harm prevention, and renewed our ‘Listeners’ scheme with the Samaritans, where selected prisoners are trained to provide emotional support to their peers.

– Prison Service spokesperson