Psychological effects of imprisonment on young offenders

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The aim of this dissertation is to examine the claim of authors such as Harrington and Bailey (2005) that a substantial proportion of young offenders in the UK suffer from severe mental illness. In accepting this claim, the secondary aim of this paper is to glean a greater understanding of why this is the case; do these offenders acquire mental illness as a result of the modern prison regime and regardless, why is the modern youth justice system so ineffective in dealing with this seemingly widespread problem?

The researcher of this paper shall argue that the currentyouth justice system needs, if it to achieve one of its primary aims,namely to rehabilitate youth offenders and prevent them from becomingrecidivists, to focus their research and practice more heavily on thepsychological processes which cause a young person to offend, so thatsuch offenders, who are clearly suffering from mental problems, can bemore easily identified and, where possible, positively helped toresolve these issues whilst they are serving their custodial sentencesso that upon release these individuals are more likely to desist fromcriminality.

The principle methodology of this paper will be a literature review,a review of both primary and secondary sources from the subject fieldsof forensic psychology, criminology and penology.


The primary issue which will be raised and explored throughout thisdissertation is the contention that the current youth justice system,and in particular the youth prison system, is failing to adequatelyaddress the psychological needs (or as they are described by manycriminologists: ‘criminogenic needs’) of youth offenders in the UK.Such an argument necessarily involves a simultaneous examination notonly of the statistics which are available regarding the prevalence ofmental illness in youth prisons and the rates of recidivism of thoseyouths who have been previously sentenced to immediate custody, butalso an examination of the latest psychological research in prisons,the current (and, to a lesser extent, historical) policies andpractices pertaining to the ‘treatment’ of those imprisoned offenderswho have been diagnosed with mental illness and also the writings ofexpert researchers in these relevant fields who provide originalinterpretative insights into the problems associated with mentalillness in youth offenders and potential approaches to minimise thisapparent epidemic.

The structure of this review shall take the following form: Thisdissertation will commence with a brief overview of past and presentsystems of caring for children serving custodial sentences and howtheir mental health needs were and are now met, including anexamination of the changing definition of ‘needs’ in this context. Theresearcher, using research from government enquires, literature andreports concerned with this issue will then seek to identify thoseyouth justice policies and practices which are apparently ineffectiveand/or inappropriate in reducing this problem and, in conclusion, makerecommendations for future necessary/ effective reforms and also futureresearch which should be conducted to assist in our understanding ofthe psychological causes of crime and to assist in the formulation ofsuch reforms.

The researcher of this paper is greatly interested in the subject ofthis paper: After reading in Society Guardian articles about our youngprison population the researcher was surprised to learn that there areover 11,000 young people between 15-20 in jail in England and Waleswith a diagnosable mental disorder,

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