The mental health of prisoners in Northern Ireland in the 1980s was better than their counterparts in England and Wales, state files from 1989 have said.
About two-thirds of inmates at that time had been charged with paramilitary offences, according to an Northern Ireland Office (NIO) assessment.
It said: “The Northern Ireland prison population, convicted and remand, does not include such a large psychiatric element as is reported in the English prisons.”
It followed criticism levelled at the state of mental health care in the UK penal system by the New Statesman magazine.
The NIO said: “Even with the non-terrorist prison population, major psychiatric problems do not figure as prominently as in England.
“Probable reasons include a lack of large conurbations where socio-psychological problems are particularly liable to generate crime, a lack so far of a major hard drug problem, possibly legislature differences and relatively little overcrowding in Northern Ireland prisons.”
The file examined mental health in Northern Ireland’s prison system and the lack of secure accommodation for severely-disturbed prisoners.
It recognised a substantial intermediate grouping between psychiatric and non-psychiatric prisoners; the behaviour disorder group whose “proper placement remains a matter of controversy”.
Records from 1985 to 1989 were released by the Public Records Office Northern Ireland (PRONI) as part of the 30/20 Year Rule. It is part of a process reducing the time limit for release of files from 30 years to 20.