An author who spent nine months in Wandsworth Prison in 2016 has opened up about how the conditions of the prison made mental health problems worse.
‘A Bit of a Stretch’ author Chris Atkins, 44, wrote about serving time in Wandsworth for defrauding HMRC in a film tax scam.
Mr Atkins, who is also a journalist and documentary filmmaker, said we should not allow prisons to get worse because this erodes prisoners mental health.
He explained: “I was mainly surrounded by mentally ill drug addicts who had been completely failed by the system which was just making them worse.”
It is estimated that over half of prisoners suffer from mental health (The Institute of Psychiatry, 2019).
Mr Atkins stated: “Prisons are not making the situation better they are making it worse.”
A prison service spokesman though has said improvements have been made in many areas since Mr Atkins’ time in jail four years ago.
A report on ‘Mental Health in Prison’ indicated that deteriorating prison states exacerbated prisoners mental health issues (House of Commons committee of public Accounts, 2017-19).
Mr Atkins spent nine months in Wandsworth Prison before re-locating to open prison to finish serving two and a half years, reduced from five years.
Mr Atkins said Wandsworth Prison was filthy, rat-infested, either boiling or freezing and you had to eat in the cell next to your toilet.
He continued: “It is vile, really subhuman and degrading.”
The pandemic has made conditions worse for prisoners as it was announced on the 24th of March that visits are prohibited in the UK.
Mr Atkins said: “One thing you never stop missing is your family.
“That bond is extremely powerful it is never going to go away.”
Mr Atkins explained how releasing prisoners with more severe mental health than before they entered prison causes them to re-offend.
For sentences under 12 years, Wandsworth Prison’s re-conviction rates were high at 65.7 (2010, Justice.gov.uk).
Another factor contributing to re-conviction rates is illiteracy.
Wandsworth Prison along with the Shannon Trust has addressed the issue of illiteracy by promoting peer-led reading.
Mr Atkin was able to use his Oxford education to help other prisoners learn to read.
Other changes have occurred in Wandsworth Prison since Mr Atkins was there.
A prison service spokesperson said: “These claims date back four years, since then improvements to staffing, mental health and rehabilitation have all been acknowledged by independent inspectors.”