cfmhCommunity groups are key to engaging black and minority ethnic (BME) groups that are disproportionately represented in mental health care and the criminal justice system (CJS), the Bradley Commission has concluded.

The majority of BME communities are over-represented at all stages of the criminal justice process, and make up 25% of people in prison yet just 11% of the general population. Those BME communities are also more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, than their white counterparts.

A new independent Commission, chaired by Rt Hon Lord Bradley, has published its first report, Black and Minority Ethnic communities, mental health and criminal justice, which found that the links between the CJS and community-based groups are most essential to ensure people from BME communities are offered effective mental health support in the justice system.  

While the Commission discovered some services making excellent progress in this area, such as the African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) in Wolverhampton and PLIAS Resettlement in London, they found that there is a lot of room for other services and commissioners to improve.

Better working together

The report makes 10 recommendations, including:

• Local police, health and BME community-based groups should work together, via mental health and learning disability link workers, to ensure that low-level offenders with mental health or learning needs are, where appropriate, referred out of the CJS as early as possible
• Established liaison and diversion initiatives should ensure they partner with local BME mental health and learning disability community-based groups so that expertise can be shared and appropriate account is taken of cultural issues during key elements of the process, such as assessment
• The probation service should establish a mentoring programme for people leaving custody with mental health problems or learning disabilities and returning to the community.

The Bradley Commission is carrying out a five-year-on review of the Bradley Report, which looked at how to support people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system. The Commission is reviewing the progress made in achieving the recommendations made in the Bradley Report and examining how some of these can be implemented following the major changes that have taken place in health and criminal justice services since 2009.

Lord Bradley said: “When I was asked by Centre for Mental Health to chair this independent Commission we identified some key areas to focus on that were under-developed in the Bradley Report. This included the needs of black and minority ethnic communities. This is an incredibly important area and one which is often overlooked, illustrated by the over-representation of such communities in the criminal justice system as well as in mental health care.

“The Commission sought evidence from a number of community groups active in this area and found that building on and strengthening such links helped to increase awareness of cultural issues and individual backgrounds, make services more person-centred.”

Importance of community links

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “Community links are incredibly important when it comes to good mental health care provision. By building links with communities and working alongside organisations, diversion services can begin to tackle inequalities in access to services and support. The Commission has identified a number of cases of good practice, from which we can learn a lot.

“The over-representation of BME communities in our criminal justice system and mental health services is a much neglected area and something that needs concerted action from the ground up. The recommendations made by this report…  outline some important areas in which mental health services can work alongside community organisations to help to improve the lives of those in our communities who need an appropriate, person-centred and active approach, which understands the specific challenges faced by individuals as well as their needs, cultures and backgrounds.”

Alicia Spence, director of services at ACCI, said: “ACCI services are underpinned by humanity, hence we focus on the individual and the challenges they face rather than the diagnosis or perceptions; this enables us to work holistically without fear and develop and sustain valued and meaningful relationships with individuals underpinned by trust and respect. It allows us to identify and support protective factors for each specific individual as well as building awareness of their pre-arrest risk factors such as learning disabilities and mental health problems.

“We have also found that links with other mental health and support services are very important and useful, helping us to build support around the individuals we are working with, across all areas of their lives.”

Norma Hoyte, executive director of PLIAS Resettlement, said: “All the evidence tells us that the resettlement and reintegration of those who have been through the criminal justice and mental health systems is enormously aided by the presence in their lives of a concerned individual or organisation who is simply there for them when it matters. This can make all the difference between a successful return to the community after a time of being locked away or a return to incarceration via the revolving door of further criminality or offending behaviour. The recommendations…  give an opportunity for the identification of good practice models across the country to be embedded into the work currently being undertaken by organisations working in the criminal justice and mental health systems to improve access for members of the BME community.”