Moving people with mental health problems out of prisons could save taxpayers more than £20,000 a year for each case if diversion schemes were improved, according to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.
In a report published today, the charity argued that more schemes would reduce the costs of expensive court proceedings and the “unnecessary” imprisonment of people on remand or sentence.
Piecemeal and haphazard
But it said existing schemes were “piecemeal and haphazard” and many had insecure funding. Some areas had no arrangements at all, while other had only “minimal” coverage, leaving just one in five mentally-ill offenders with a chance of moving out of prison.
The findings follow a 1992 government report that recommended that all courts in England and Wales should be served by a diversion team.
A number of schemes had difficulties in arranging access to hospital beds for clients with severe mental illness, leading to people being “inappropriately” remanded in prison, the charity found. It was particularly hard to organise services for people diagnosed with a personality disorder.
High drop-out rates
The charity’s probe, including visits to 16 diversion schemes in England, also found that drop-out rates from diversion schemes were high due to a lack of continuing contact with agencies.
The Sainsbury Centre put forward 21 recommendations including national guidance, the establishment of diversion teams in each primary care trust and improved training for criminal justice staff and police. It also called for the changes to be backed by “at least” a three-fold increase in funding.
Angela Greatley, chief executive of the centre, said there was a “powerful case” for investing in diversion, but warned existing schemes were unable to fulfil their potential.
Too many in prison
“Too many people with complex mental health needs end up in prison. This is extremely expensive to the taxpayer and ineffective in reducing subsequent offending,” she added.
The charity’s findings will contribute to a government-commissioned independent review of mental health in the criminal justice system led by Lord Bradley. A separate strategy for offender health and social care is also being prepared by the government for publication later this year.
The Sainsbury Centre’s report comes ahead of a public inquiry into the case of a mentally-ill girl who self-harmed in custody and was later moved to a secure psychiatric setting after pressure from her lawyers. The girl, known as SP, is expected to give evidence to the inquiry, represented by the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, said the report highlighted the “dire state” of mental health services for people involved in the criminal justice system and called for vulnerable people to be treated in the community or therapeutic settings.