People with mental health problems being treated like criminals

People with mental health problems are having their rights to healthcare ignored and are being treated worse than criminals according to a new report. The joint review, entitled ‘A Criminal Use of Police cells?’ was carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The shocking findings include evidence that there were 9,000 incidences in 2011-12 of people experiencing a mental health crisis being detained in police custody as a ‘place of safety’, rather than a health setting.

The report also reveals that in over 80 per cent of cases the reason for detention in a police cell was that the person had either attempted suicide or self-harm, or indicated that they were thinking of doing so.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis they need care and support, not to be treated like they are a criminal. Often the reason that someone is detained by police is because they have attempted to take their own life so a police cell is a completely inappropriate environment and would be a terrifying experience for someone who is already distressed and confused. 

This report echoes the findings of our recent campaign on physical restraint in healthcare settings, which highlighted that people in a mental health crisis need help not harm.      

It is outrageous that suspected criminals can be released sooner from custody than people with mental health problems, who are simply unwell.        

At present, people with mental health problems can be detained in custody for a maximum of 72 hours whereas those arrested for a crime can only be held for a maximum of 24 hours before having to be released or charged. We welcome the call for this to be brought in line, however, police cells should only ever be used as a place of safety as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.

Last month the Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing published a report recommending comprehensive mandatory mental health training for police officers. While many officers do treat people with mental health problems with dignity and compassion, we also know that police do not always have the skills required to provide the care and support that people with mental health problems need in these situations. 

We need to see more training and better multi-agency working agreements so that police can work in partnership with local hospitals, mental health liaison officers, and outreach teams.”