The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) and the Magistrates Association have published the results of an independent survey of magistrates’ views on sentencing powers and practice in relation to offenders with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and other needs. This joint investigation by the IAP and the MA was prompted by concerns about unmet mental health needs, the worrying rise of self-inflicted deaths in custody and exceptionally high levels of self-harm.
The survey found that magistrates were familiar with, and sometimes included, drug rehabilitation requirements and alcohol treatment requirements as part of a community sentence. But over half of magistrates in our survey said they had ‘never’ included a mental health treatment requirement (MHTR) as part of a community sentence, with the remaining respondents saying that they ‘rarely’ had. None reported that they ‘often’ included an MHTR.
Survey results also show that magistrates are keen to have the full range of treatment requirements laid down in law, made known and available to them as local sentencing options. Most would appreciate fuller, more timely information on the mental health and substance misuse needs of defendants and the social care and support needed by people with learning disabilities.
The report gives a set of, largely practical, recommendations. Once implemented, they could lead to wider use of community sentences and treatment requirements and fairer treatment of people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and other needs caught up in the criminal justice system.
Commenting on the report, John Bache, National Chair of the Magistrates Association, said:
'The Magistrates Association welcomed the opportunity to work with IAP on this important report. It underlines the need to have robust and effective community sentences available as an alternative to custody for vulnerable offenders in every area of the country, which is simply not the case at present, as custody can bring disproportionate risks of self-harm or suicide for these people. The MA has supported the recent Community Sentence Treatment Requirement pilots and hopes to see this approach rolled out to all courts in the near future.'
Juliet Lyon, Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody said:
'Instead of receiving treatment in the community, why are so many people with serious mental health needs still locked in bleak prison cells? This is by no means a new problem. The high toll of deaths in custody damages all those involved - from individual tragedies to bereaved families, sentencers who pass judgment to staff who have a duty of care. There are humane, professional solutions. This survey and our recommendations set out how improvements in communication and information sharing, partnerships between health and justice and proper availability of mental healthcare across communities can save lives.'
The full press release is available here.
The report is available here.