Thousands with mental illnesses being ‘missed and failed by criminal justice system’, inspectors warn

Thousands of people with a mental illness are being “failed by the criminal justice system” in England and Wales, inspectors have warned.

At every stage, the needs of those with mental health problems are being “missed” and they face “unacceptable delays” in getting support, according to the chief inspector of probation Justin Russell.

An inspection, carried out by watchdogs for police, prosecutors, prisons, probation and other bodies including the Care Quality Commission, found “too little” progress had been made since the last review more than a decade ago which they said was “disappointing”.

A shortage of services and long delays to access them had been made worse by the pandemic, a report found.

It also said the system for sharing vital information on someone’s mental health between bodies was “broken”, with confusion over data protection rules and incomplete or inaccurate records adding to the problem.

Inspectors reviewed hundreds of cases from around the country and spoke to professionals as well as people with mental health problems who had been through the criminal justice system in order to compile their findings.

Mr Russell (pictured) told reporters there were concerns around justice being served but also that mental health problems can “trigger” criminal behaviour which could put others at risk, adding: “If treatment isn’t provided, those sorts of incidents can increase.”

There was “potential for people’s symptoms to become more severe because you haven’t intervened early to provide the help or support that people need”, he said.

Asked if the concerns raised in the report will only get worse as the Government’s recruitment campaign to hire 20,000 more police officers continues, Mr Russel said: “Yes, I think there is concern that there will be knock on impacts from these additional police officers”, adding that there are already “thousands and thousands” of people coming into the criminal justice system with mental health problems and as more people are arrested and charged “that number will be greater.”

Speaking on behalf of all six bodies involved, Mr Russell said: “The criminal justice system is failing people with a mental illness. At every stage, their needs are being missed and they face unacceptable delays in getting support. Not enough progress has been made since our last joint inspection 12 years ago to put right these critical shortfalls.

“Police forces, prosecutors, prisons and probation services all assess individuals in different ways, which leads to gaps and inconsistencies. Even when mental health needs are identified, the information is not always recorded fully or used to make effective decisions.

“There are significant problems in the exchange of information in every agency and at every stage of an individual’s journey in the criminal justice system. This part of the system is broken and needs to be fixed urgently.”

While there was praise for some changes which had already been made, more than 20 recommendations were issued for improvement.

Mr Russell added: “Criminal justice agencies need to make major improvements to the way they work with people with mental health issues.”

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