Government backs liaison scheme for mentally-ill offenders

Originally published in The Law Society Gazette

Jonathan Rayner

 

Criminal offenders with mental illnesses and other health issues are to be directed towards treatment by a nationwide diversion and liaison scheme from as early as 2017, national charity Revolving Doors has claimed.

The scheme, which will be triggered as soon as an offender comes into contact with the police, will be available to people of all ages.

If they have multiple problems, such as mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism, learning difficulties, personality disorder or homelessness, they will be referred to more than one agency for help. Mental health nurses or doctors will operate a form of triage to identify those in need of medical help rather than imprisonment and the courts will be kept informed of their findings.

Revolving Doors research and development director Vicki Helyar-Cardwell told the Better Courts 2015 conference in London: ‘More than half the country will be covered by the scheme from 1 April 2015. The business case is going to the Treasury in autumn of this year and we will have finished the national roll-out by 2017.’

She told the Gazette that the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health were both ‘committed’ to the full implementation of the scheme and that she expected the Treasury to be the same. This is in line with the 2009 Bradley report into mental health and the criminal justice system (CJS), she said, which included the creation of a liaison and diversion scheme among its more than 80 proposals.

However a member of the Magistrates’ Association, who asked not to be named, told the Gazettethat she doubted whether the government had the political will to make the necessary funds available.

She also said that the proposals were ‘reinventing the wheel’ because, even some 30 years ago, community psychiatric nurses were on duty at courts and elsewhere within the CJS.

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