The government has launched a pilot scheme that will see mental health nurses based in police stations and courts in 10 areas in England in a bid to cut reoffending.
In the £25 million scheme, nurses will help police officers to respond to calls and identify those with mental health problems or substance abuse problem so that the person can be offered treatment and support. This could also affect how they are dealt with by the criminal justice system.
Statistics show that 26% of women and 16% of men said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody. Meanwhile, 46% of women in prison and 21% of men have attempted suicide at some point in their lives compared to 6% of the general population.
It has been estimated that police officers spend 15% to 25% of their time dealing with suspects with mental ill health.
The pilot areas are:
• Avon and Wiltshire
• Sunderland and Middlesbrough
• South Essex
Similar services have already been successfully piloted in Leicestershire and Cleveland. If this pilot is successful, it could be rolled out nationally by 2017.
Mental health charity Together will deliver services at the trial site in London. Linda Bryant, Together’s head of criminal justice services, welcomed the government’s investment. “For over 20 years, we have seen thousands of people taking steps to move away from crime as a result of effective liaison and diversion delivered by Together in courts across London,” she said. “It is encouraging to see the government recognise now that provision urgently needs to be rolled out across the country.
“Complex mental health and social care issues are at the root of the vast majority of offending, but this has largely been overlooked by the criminal justice system. From our experience, it is only when these needs are identified and responded to at the earliest possible stage, and when appropriate alternatives to custody are found, that people can finally break out of the cycle of offending.
“By directly tackling the mental health issues at the root of someone’s offending, and building strong partnerships with agencies to address other needs such as homelessness and unemployment at the same time, we can support people at every point on their journey to a life away from crime.”
Marylyn Haines Evans, public affairs chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, which has been running the Care not Custody campaign that seeks to highlight the high number of people in prison with mental health needs, said: “For too many years diversion has been an afterthought and too many people who should be diverted from police stations and courts into mental health or social care settings are ending up in prison as a default option. This is nothing short of a scandal. We now have a good foundation for change and we’re starting to see the alignment of health and criminal justice systems that is critical to stop the cycle of offenders with mental health problems moving in and out of the prison estate.”
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Centre for mental health, welcomed the government’s announcement. “Liaison and diversion services can transform the lives of people with mental health problems who get into trouble with the police and in so doing make the justice system more effective and efficient,” he said.
“Liaison and diversion teams provide immediate advice and help to the police when they arrest someone with a mental health difficulty. They can screen for mental health problems and learning difficulties in both adults and children who come into police custody and secure the right support for those who need it.
“Well-functioning liaison and diversion services can prevent people with mental health problems from being imprisoned and reduce the likelihood of further offending by putting better support plans in place for people with complex needs.
“We are pleased that the government has given the go-ahead to further development of liaison and diversion services. This year it will be five years since the Bradley Report was published and it is vital that good quality mental health support for adults and children alike is available in every police station and court in England.”