Some years ago as my interest in this subject area was developing, my force had supported me to undertake an MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Cardiff University – I state this because they sanctioned my research project which is now publicly available in the university library and therefore, able to be summarised here.
I examined the issue of what the officers, in fact, did in police custody regarding criminal suspects who are mentally ill. The findings from my research have influenced my thinking on this subject. I want to share that with you.
(NB: the below figures relate to criminal suspects for substantive offences – therefore, it does NOT include, s136 Mental Health Act; breach of the peace; court warrants; etc..)
- 10,000 custody records were examined from two different busy custody suites.
- 1,076 raised the ‘mental health’ question and were assessed by the FME
- 512 were assessed by another medical professional after the FME – either CPN or AMHP led MHA assessment.
- (The remaining 564 of the 1,076 were deemed fit for investigation.)
- 415 of those 512 were not in need of hospital admission on that day.
- (The 415 were ‘managed’ in custody almost as if no mental health problems existed at all. Appropriate adults were obtained where needed, but the overall CJ outcome was consistent with ‘normal’ CJ outcomes for other offenders.)
- 97 were in need of hospital admission following their assessment.
- 9 of the 97 were in need of admission under s3 MHA.
- 12 of the 97 were in need of admission on a voluntary basis.
- 76 of the 97 were in need of admission under s2 MHA.
- 97 criminal offences were not prosecuted.
- 97 suspects for criminal offences were not bailed pending the outcome of their assessment or treatment.
This fits with what we already know with other research in terms of proportions in police custody identified as having a mental health problem. However, research about what then happened to those suspects, and why, is thinner on the ground. This raises big questions for me:
- Why are we not ‘bailing’ people from custody if they are ‘sectioned’; in order to allow the investigating officers to request information from clinicians that would assist in determining whether a prosecution may still be required? – perhaps this may only be necessary with non-trivial offences but some people who are ‘sectioned’ may or may not subsequently be found to be mentally disordered. How will we know of this unless investigators follow it up whilst the person remains on police bail. Some of ‘the 97’ were released with 3-7 days and found not mentally ill.
- Are there not some offences within ‘the 97’ that may still suggest the need for a prosecution in the public interest, because of seriousness or because of the risk background of the suspect? For example, if a case in front of a custody sergeant was similar to those used as examples in previous blogs – one on a firearm’s incident and another concerning an armed robbery.
- It raises questions about the importance of the custody sergeant, in ensuring that investigations are not brought to too premature an end before investigating officers have followed up the outcome of decisions to ‘divert’ on the day of the arrest. Certainly, until the outcome of a mental health assessment is known, how can the ‘public interest test’ within the Code for Crown Prosecutors be weighed?
It also raises the question about whether ‘diversion’ is even the word we should use – it immediately implies a (false) dichotomy that those with mental health problems who offend are either a matter for the mental health system OR for the criminal justice system; almost as if the most important thing is the earliest possible decision about which will be the paradigm of choice. As Jill PEAY from the London School of Economics pointed out: we need “a model of plurality”.