‘Time for action on mental health in prisons’, says Lord Chancellor
The Lord Chancellor has set out how the government plans to support people with neurodivergent conditions such as autism and dyslexia, as well as those with acute mental health problems, within the criminal justice system.
Following the Government’s announcement surrounding plans to reform the Mental Health Act, Sir Simon Wessley said that more must be done support mentally unwell people within the criminal justice system.
The mental health system reform plans aim to be less discriminatory towards black people and changes made to ensure that neither autism nor learning disabilities will be grounds for detention. The Lord Chancellor has said this needs to apply in prisons too.
Lord Chancellor, The Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said: “As a barrister, part-time circuit judge and now as Lord Chancellor, I’ve seen victims, witnesses, and defendants with these conditions struggle too often in our criminal justice system.
“Support for all victims of crime continues to improve at every stage of the justice system – with a further £40m investment announced in the Chancellor’s Spending Review. But for those who may need some extra guidance when navigating what can be a daunting web of courts, tribunals, probation and prison systems – we must go further.
“It might be that people with conditions like autism get lost in the complex processes and legal language that are difficult for them to understand. It can even be as simple as them needing more help to fill in forms to get accommodation when released from prison.”
The Lord Chancellor has commissioned a Call for Evidence and a review to find out how prevalent these issues are and put together a clearer picture of what support is already out there.
This review won’t just cover conditions such as autism and dyslexia but a whole host of learning difficulties and disabilities, as well as emotional and behavioural changes that are a result of brain injuries.
“The wider changes we are making to the Act will also help reduce stigmas and improve the care of people with mental health conditions, including those who end up in the criminal justice system. There are too many repeat low-level offenders with acute mental health problems, often started or made worse by drugs and alcohol, unable to get the medical help which would stop them committing crime.
“Prisons should be places where offenders are rightly punished for their crimes, not simply somewhere to send those whose biggest danger is their own mental health.
“Our reforms will ensure these vulnerable people get the right treatment, in the right place, at the right time while also allowing our hard-working prison officers to do the job they were employed to – dealing with criminals, not the mentally unwell.”
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