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Diversion in operation
Many people with mental health problems or learning disabilities come into contact with the criminal justice system. What happens next is crucial to their future well-being. Strangely enough it can be a key starting point in getting good treatment and access to services. Lord Bradley issued a report in 2009 highlighting opportunities for people to be ‘diverted’ from the criminal justice system to get the mental health care they need. This summer, he was invited to review progress and has published a report appropriately titled ‘The Bradley Report five years on'.
I want to explore some of its findings.
In a public place
People can find themselves involved with the police or courts for all sorts of reasons. They might be removed to a place of safety by the police under section 136 of the Mental Health Act; they might be arrested on suspicion of an offence; or they might find themselves in court after being charged. If part of the reason they’ve found themselves in this position is because of their own mental disorder, it’s important they get timely intervention to support them.
The new Bradley Report has highlighted a number of areas of change. There’s a lot of discussion at the moment about police powers to remove someone they find suffering from a mental disorder in a public place, and in particular the number of people taken to a police station as a first place of safety. This is not always the most appropriate place. There have been some initiatives in the last few years whereby mental health staff have worked alongside police officers in the street and in police stations, and this has often reduced the need to use police powers. Bradley welcomes this development.
If a vulnerable person is detained at a police station, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice says they should have an appropriate adult with them during interviews. Bradley regrets that there is no requirement on anyone to provide the appropriate adult (who can be a volunteer). This is a key area where people can be vulnerable, and presents an early chance to identify mental health problems.
Bradley stresses the importance of mental health awareness training for staff at various points in the justice ladder. That includes police officers, magistrates and prison officers. Bradley says that meeting and working alongside mental health professionals can be just as useful, if not more useful, than a formal training session.