Research commissioned by NHS England shows that an NHS England programme may significantly reduce the chances of those with mental health and other health needs from receiving custodial sentences.
The national Liaison and Diversion (L&D) scheme aims to identify and support vulnerable people, such as those with mental health issues and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system.
Research found that the likelihood of people receiving a custodial sentence after involvement with L&D services was almost half of that of a control group.
The L&D programme is run primarily in police custody suites and courts in England. NHS England launched the national, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, L&D services in 2014.
Expert health practitioners screen detainees and those appearing before the courts to identify a wide range of vulnerabilities, including mental health needs and learning disabilities.
When these needs are recognised, people are then referred to appropriate services for treatment or support, and this information can be taken into account in the criminal justice process.
The research evaluated L&D services using a novel, interlinked health and criminal justice data set from over 8,000 individuals who used L&D services in 2017. Using data from different public services meant the study could assess the impact of L&D services on Accident & Emergency (A&E) attendances, referrals to mental health or drug and alcohol treatment services, court processes, and other situations.
Nadine Dorries MP, Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, said: “This evidence shows Liaison and Diversion services are working and helping the most vulnerable people in the criminal justice system.
“They are identifying people with problems like substance misuse and mental health issues, referring them into suitable services and diverting them away from the justice system when appropriate.
“The programme is an exemplar of strong partnership working across government departments, arms-length bodies and those delivering services locally and has now achieved 100% coverage across England. This research will be invaluable as we consider potential opportunities to further improve this successful model.”
Overall, 88% of people referred to L&D services had at least one vulnerability identified. Almost three-quarters, 71%, of those referred had a mental health need, and just over half, 52%, experienced drug or alcohol misuse.
The six to 12-month period prior to L&D referral is often characterised by a steep increase in contact with A&E services, specialist mental health services, and declining self-reported health in those attending drug treatment services.
L&D services also appear to directly contribute to savings of between £13.1 million and £41.5 million in the criminal justice system through diversion from custody and consequent increases in productivity.
Minister for Prisons and Probation, Alex Chalk MP, stated: “It is absolutely vital that vulnerable offenders get the professional help their conditions often require, and it’s clear the Liaison and Diversion scheme is doing just that.
“Ensuring these people get the right support at the right time will not only address the underlying causes of their offending but could help prevent future victims too.”