Bid to improve mental health treatment for offenders

The government has announced plans to improve the treatment of offenders with mental health problems, learning disabilities and personality disorders.

The action plan, entitled Improving Health, Supporting Justice, promises to establish comprehensive diversion and liaison services, which would be on hand to help identify an offender’s mental health or learning disability needs and ensure they received suitable treatment.

The Department of Health also committed to undertake mental health and learning disability training for all frontline staff in prisons, social care services and the NHS over the next five years.

Care services minister Phil Hope described the plan as a “more consistent and connected vision for improving health in the criminal justice system”.

However, the government has stopped short of introducing criminal justice mental health teams as recommended by Lord Bradley in his report on the treatment of these groups of offenders in April this year.

The plan also aims to reduce the numbers of offenders with mental health issues, learning disabilities and personality disorders who are in the prison system unnecessarily.

Charities welcome plan

Mental health charity Rethink cautiously welcomed the government’s plans. Chief executive Paul Jenkins said: “To achieve the transformation in practice will need structured, joined-up working between the criminal justice agencies, the NHS and local authorities and for government and all the agencies involved to give these plans the priority and resources they deserve.”

The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health said the plan needed clear lines of accountability for delivery. Joint chief executive Sean Duggan said: “We have been talking about national coverage of liaison and diversion services since the Reed Report was published in 1992. The case for action is clear.”

He was concerned the plan said little about the specific needs of people from ethnic minority communities, but welcomed the emphasis on improved support for the health of female offenders and for veterans of the armed services. He also welcomed the pledge to review the support offered to offenders with personality disorders including the high-cost Dangerous People with Severe Personality Disorder pilots.

Lord Bradley’s recommendations

Lord Bradley’s report contained 80 separate recommendations for health and criminal justice services including the establishment of the Health and Criminal Justice Programme Board who drew up today’s review.

Bradley also recommended training at every level, improved screening for mental health issues in prisons and ensuring that information on mental health of offenders is obtained before sentencing of offenders.

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