Nacro calls for better mental health provision in custody

All police stations and courts should have a statutory duty to provide access to multi-agency services for offenders with mental health needs, crime reduction charity Nacro said today.

A report from the charity called for a comprehensive review of the system for dealing with offenders with mental health needs. It argued that “unnecessary” use of custody for the group was “fuelling” record prison numbers.

It called for courts and police stations to have access to criminal justice mental health liaison schemes, which would provide offenders with mental health needs with a range of services, including support with housing and substance misuse.

It said the criminal justice system was failing to join up with healthcare services and resources were being “wasted” because of duplication of assessments of offenders by agencies.

Guidance in the Mental Health Act 1983 code of practice saying that it was “preferable” for people believed to be suffering from a mental disorder to be detained in hospital rather than a police station was not being followed, the report claimed. Two-thirds of people detained in a public place under the Mental Health Act 1983 in 2005-6 were held in police custody and just 34% in hospital, according to figures cited in the report.

There are about 5,000 people with a serious mental illness in prison, while for young offenders the rate of mental health problems is three times higher than in the general population. About 84% of young offenders on remand and 88% of those sentenced have a personality disorder, the report said.

A lack of training and understanding also meant that mental health services in the criminal justice system are not being used, Nacro’s report claimed.

The charity’s other recommendations included giving police round-the-clock access to mental health assessments and regular mental health awareness training.

Lucy Smith, author of the report and senior mental health researcher for Nacro, said she hoped the findings would be a “long overdue catalyst for long overdue reforms”.

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