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Mental health care and the criminal justice system

The population in custody has soared in the last decade and a significant proportion of those who end up in the criminal justice system have a mental health problem.
Responsibility for prison health care lies with the NHS. It aims to give prisoners access to the same quality and range of health services as the general public receives in the community. This is an enormous challenge. Many prisoners have a combination of mental health problems, substance misuse and personality disorder, as well as a range of other issues to deal with. But the costs, both financial and social, of containing people in prison without access to appropriate health care are high. The Government has committed to developing diversion services to identify people with mental health problems in courts and police stations. This is vital to reduce the number of people with mental health difficulties in custody and to improve community services for offenders of all ages.

Resettlement and rehabilitation are also essential to improve health and reduce further offending. Help with health, housing and employment make a big difference to offenders’ lives.

This briefing paper examines the provision of mental health care for adults in the criminal justice system. It looks at what has been achieved to date and identifies priorities for further work. We will be publishing a separate briefing paper which examines the provision of mental health care for children and young people in the youth justice system.