cell doorThe pilot liaison and diversion service, which aims to help break the cycle of offending by ensuring people with mental health problems and vulnerabilities such as addictions or learning disabilities get the support or treatment they need, has been extended to 9 more London boroughs.

The liaison and diversion service, commissioned by NHS England, aims to help avoid unnecessary jail terms where bail decisions or a community sentence may be more appropriate, giving individuals the best chance of breaking the cycle of offending. 

Delivered in partnership by charity Together for Mental Wellbeing, West London Mental Health NHS Trust, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust and Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, the extension of the scheme will build on work undertaken in North and Northeast London since April 2014 as part of the first phase of the trial to make the service available across the capital. 

The extension will see specialist liaison and diversion teams based in 10 custody suites, 6 magistrates’ courts and 2 crown courts across West, Northwest and Central London. The population covered by the whole London trial site will rise to more than 4.5 million people. 

Liaison and diversion ensures that people get the support they need as early as possible, and that their mental health needs or vulnerability are taken into account as part of criminal justice procedures, including at sentencing. Liaison and diversion practitioners will assess the needs of vulnerable individuals in magistrates’ courts, crown courts and police custody settings, and the 4 partner organisations will work closely together to ensure that individuals have access to care and support services. Community support workers will work alongside individuals throughout the process of engaging or re-engaging with relevant mental health services and other local services to help them tackle issues such as housing, addictions or debt. 

Mental health practitioners will prepare reports for court to give the judiciary vital information to help them make decisions about bail and remand. This helps to avoid unnecessary jail terms where bail decisions or a community sentence may be more appropriate, again giving individuals the best opportunity of breaking the cycle of offending. Mental health awareness training will also be provided to police and other frontline criminal justice staff as part of the service. The service is provided to all those who need it and places a particular emphasis on reaching women, black and minority ethnic groups, and children and young people, including those transitioning to adulthood and involved in gangs.

Benefitting thousands

Since April 2014 when the first phase of the trial began, 3,479 people have benefited from the service. Many also benefitted from outreach support provided by a community support worker, a role being trialled as part of the liaison and diversion model to give vulnerable people as much support as possible to fully engage with relevant support agencies. 

As part of the aim to ensure liaison and diversion is available at every stage of the criminal justice pathway, the trial site has introduced the service in 2 crown courts, where 117 people received support. Within the area covered by phase one, 2,407 people received support from a practitioner when attending a police station. 

Liz Felton, CEO of Together for Mental Wellbeing, said: “By being proactive in identifying and tackling people’s mental health needs, we can support them at every point on their journey to a life away from crime. This is only possible with specialist support at the earliest possible point to address the complex mental health and social care issues that are at the heart of someone’s offending. In the 20 years we have been delivering liaison and diversion, we have seen thousands of people take positive steps to get their lives back on track.

“Joint working is crucial to liaison and diversion services and we are excited to be building on the firm foundations of our existing partnerships with the three trusts. We look forward to working with them to extend the London trial site that has already benefitted so many over the past year.”

Dr Nick Broughton, medical director at West London Mental Health NHS Trust, said: “Those of us who work in forensic mental health services know that all too often people with mental health problems end up in the courts and criminal justice system when what they need is the right mental health and social care.

“This scheme will help us to intervene earlier and hopefully prevent mental health problems resulting in offending or re-offending. By having mental health professionals in courts as well as police stations, we will also be able to make sure that mental health needs are addressed during criminal justice procedures. We’re looking forward to working with the other trusts and Together in this crucial work.”

The new liaison and diversion trial sites will be independently evaluated and, subject to the approval of a full business case to HM Treasury, the model will be extended to the rest of England by 2017.