Two mental health charities have laid out a “compelling” case for treating offenders with mental health conditions in the community, rather than sending them to prison.
The report, by Rethink and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, says such policies would save money at a time when public spending is under severe pressure.
The report lays out the interim findings of their research into how to build a financial case for “diversion” schemes, in which offenders are given community support programmes rather than locked up in prison.
It concludes that investing in “diversion” would save money in the criminal justice system and reduce reoffending rates.
It follows Lord Bradley’s review of people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties in the criminal justice system, which in April 2009 found a “growing consensus that prison may not always be the right environment for those with severe mental illness”.
In its response to the Bradley report, the government pledged to reduce the number of people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions in prison.
The new report is part of research – to be completed by November – that aims to find evidence to justify investing in diversion.
Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink, said: “More than one in ten prisoners has a severe mental illness and most do not receive the help and treatment that they need.
“It’s not rocket science – providing the right support to offenders early on would save money in the long run.
“We could spend far less on appropriate community support than on prison places. At the same time, we would reduce reoffending rates which are often sustained as a result of mental illness.”
A review of published evidence for the report found that diversion can produce cost and efficiency savings in the criminal justice system, reduce re-offending and improve mental health.
The report concludes that, despite gaps in the evidence, the case for investing in diversion is “compelling”.
7 April 2010