Sainsbury Centre: Community sanctions not tackling mental illness

The courts are failing to use community sentences to tackle mental health problems among offenders because provisions to do so are poorly understood, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health said today.

In a report, the charity said few people were given a mental health treatment requirement (MHTR) – one of 12 possible requirements that can be added to community sentences – despite two-fifths of people on community sentences having mental health problems.

It said the purpose of MHTRs and the group of people to whom they can be given were not clear to sentencers, probation staff or health professionals.

Delays in psychiatric reports

Long delays in the production of court psychiatric reports were also a major barrier to the use of MHTRs, while there was also “widespread confusion” among health, probation and court staff about how an MHTR can be breached and the consequences of doing so.

The report called on the government to issue clear guidance on the use of the MHTR and on court diversion teams to take an active role in identifying appropriate people for an MHTR. It also said primary care trusts should make services available to support people given the requirement.

Sainsbury Centre chief executive Angela Greatley said: “Every year, some 70,000 people go to prison on short sentences. The majority of these people have mental health problems. Many could safely be diverted from prison and offered mental health treatment.”

She said she hoped the forthcoming report of Lord Bradley’s government-commissioned review of mental health and criminal justice would “pave the way for investment in diversion from prison towards more effective alternatives outside”.

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