Criminal justice and health staff must improve identification of child and adult offenders with mental health problems and learning disabilities, according to a major review published today.
The probe into the treatment of vulnerable people in the criminal justice system by Lord Bradley called for improved training “at every level” for agencies including police, schools and courts.
The review said that although the policy of diverting people with mental health problems or learning disabilities away from prison had been supported by government as far back as 1990, implementation was “inconsistent.”
As a result, too many people were passing through the criminal justice system without their mental health needs or learning disabilities being recognised.
Lord Bradley made more than 80 recommendations including:
- The appointment of qualified mental health workers in every youth offending team.
- Ensuring information on people’s mental health or learning disabilities are obtained before antisocial behaviour orders are issued.
- A further review of early intervention and diversion for children and young people with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
- Better reception screening in prisons to identify those with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
- The creation of a national board and advisory group to monitor implementation.
The review did not provide estimates of how much the changes could cost but concluded that further investment in diversion schemes could lead to longer-term savings.
Progress to be monitored
Publishing the review, Lord Bradley said: “My recommendations establish a baseline for mental health care services in the criminal justice system and will ensure that individuals with mental health problems and learning difficulties are properly identified, assessed and helped with their rehabilitation and resettlement, thus reducing the level of re-offending.
“The creation of a national board and advisory group are important measures and I look forward to the government reporting back to parliament on the progress they have made in the autumn.”
Justice minister David Hanson welcomed the review, which was ordered by the government in December 2007. He confirmed the government would establish the board and advisory group to consider the recommendations and develop a national delivery plan by October.
The Howard League for Penal Reform said the review was a “landmark” but warned implementation could be difficult in the current economic climate.
Mental health charity Rethink urged the government to implement the review “without delay” arguing that this would slash rising prison numbers and improve treatment for the estimated 8,000 offenders with severe mental illness in prison.
Chief Executive Paul Jenkins said: “Government cannot afford to sit on the fence and allow lives and resources to be wasted. It still seems willing to spend billions on expanding prison places when it could reduce prison numbers faster and more cost effectively by implementing the Bradley recommendations.”
The Prison Reform Trust endorsed the review, but argued that a further review of children and young people with mental health or learning disabilities would delay improvements.
Penelope Gibb, director of the trust’s strategy to reduce child and youth imprisonment, said: “The government has ample evidence that children with mental health problems, learning disabilities and difficulties are over-represented in the youth justice system and in custody and that the treatment they receive is inadequate. We need the government to act, not undertake another review – to ensure that central and local government, and health bodies meet their existing obligations.”
Community Care will be running a workshop on promoting community-based solutions to crime as part of our youth justice conference on 19 May. Book a place.