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Relative Justice: the experiences and views of family members of people with particular needs in contact with criminal justice and liaison and diversion services

The Bradley Report (Department of Health, 2009) recommended the introduction of liaison and diversion services in police custody suites and criminal courts, and this recommendation is being taken forward. An initial investment to support the development of liaison and diversion services was made in 2011, and in January 2014 the government announced that NHS England would begin to roll out services, across England, in police custody suites and criminal courts. An initial ten trial sites began in April 2014, and these were followed by 16 more sites in April 2015 – providing 53% population coverage across England. A service specification and operating model describe how services should be delivered (NHS England 2014a and 2014b). The expectation is to achieve national coverage by 2017, subject to the submission of the business case to HM Treasury in autumn 2015, and their approval.

Liaison and diversion is a process whereby people of all ages with mental health problems, learning disabilities, substance misuse problems or other vulnerabilities are identified and assessed as early as possible as they pass through the criminal justice system. Following screening and assessment, individuals are given access to appropriate services including, but not limited to, mental health and learning disability services, social care, and substance misuse treatment.

Information from liaison and diversion assessments is shared appropriately with relevant agencies so that informed decisions can be made, for example, about charging, case management, sentencing and diversion. Diversion may occur within the youth and criminal justice system or away from it, for example, into treatment and care (NHS England 2014b).

To help inform the model for liaison and diversion services, NHS England commissioned the Offender Health Collaborative (OHC) to undertake ‘a national service user consultation on the operating model’, and a report was published early 2015. The OHC, in turn, invited the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) to undertake a consultation involving family members and carers3 of people with particular needs in contact with criminal justice services, and with liaison and diversion services, in particular. POPS (Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group) worked in partnership with PRT to recruit family members, and to help organise and run the consultation.