There are many reasons as to why the justice system incarcerates people who could benefit from different, more rehabilitative, or psychiatric help, but one of the main drivers behind this is that community services such as community orders with a Mental Health Treatment Requirement (MHTR) are vastly underfunded.

Making sure people who could be sentenced to community orders, are ending up there can save lives, reduce reoffending and has also been found to save the taxpayer tens of millions a year. The cost of sending someone to prison for just one year is £35,000 and the 8,000 currently in prison (which is likely an underestimate) makes up about 10% of the entire prison population in England and Wales.

This means that at least £56 million could be saved if that estimated 8,000 had been given an MHTR.

But improving the uptake of MHTR’s doesn’t only benefit the economy and society at large, it also disrupts a cycle of re-offending that takes place when someone who has a mental illness but also has committed crime, doesn’t actually come into contact with the correct services because they have been ‘flying under the radar’ so to speak, in prison.

Provisions for mental health support, psychiatric assessments, therapy etc. whilst in prison are extremely limited and other issues such as prisoners taking illegal drugs whilst incarcerated is usually something that prevents them from being moved out of general population and into facilities within the prison that can address their mental health needs. Unfortunately, many prisoners who suffer from mental disorders, especially severe and distressing disorders such as schizophrenia, self-medicate to manage their symptoms.

The RcPsych has put together guidance to encourage psychiatrists nationwide, regardless of speciality to deliver these MHTRs in order to address this huge concern.

The £12m, RcPsych believe, should be adequate funding to increase the resources available to those mental health services enacting community treatment orders, so that no-one who would benefit from an MHTR is denied one.

Professor Pamela Taylor of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the lead author of the report that produced these findings, said:

“Too many people with mental disorders who get involved with criminal justice are being failed by a system that overlooks the use of Mental Health Treatment Requirements. Sending them to prison for quite minor offences may be dangerous for the offender-patients and may harm the wider community too. Re-offending rates are high when people are locked away for a short period while their problems remain unsolved or increase.”

Professor Talyor continues, ““Thousands of people could benefit from structured, formally supervised care and treatment in the community, but mental health services don’t have the resources they need to deliver mental health treatment requirements at scale.”

Within their guidance RcPsych suggest the £12m should be used to set up leaders, consultant psychiatrists and other specialists throughout the country, wherever a large mental health trust resides to ensure treatment can be delivered within this framework.

Short prison sentences have become an unsuccessful replacement for community sentences with an MHTR

Two-thirds of people sentenced to prison for a year or under reoffend within one year and RcPsych estimates that 1,600 people with a mental disorder are currently serving a sentence of under one year, this then jumps to 6,400 for serving a sentence between one year and four which also fit the criteria for reoffending and having a mental disorder.

The RcPsych report also found that out of 72,274 suspended sentences, only 278 included an MHTR and only 391 out of 130,761 community orders. These are all huge numbers, and not only do each of them have a tie to the strain on the economy and the taxpayer that prisons impose, they stand for a person who has been failed by the system who could go onto hurt those around them or themselves.

The report from RcPsych makes a point of reminding us that England and Wales currently have the highest imprisonment rate in all of Western Europe, with rates of reoffending also incredibly high.

With prison populations predicted to rise to 98,700 by September this is something that must be prioritised now

Professor Pamela Taylor of RcPsych finishes her statement, “With this guidance psychiatrists are committing themselves to working more and more effectively with this group of people but the Government must also play its part and give mental health services the funding they need.”