I was surprised and disturbed in 2013 to find that the previous year nearly 200 people suffering from a mental health condition ended up in a Staffordshire Police cell despite not committing a crime.
It had been a problem for police in Staffordshire and right across the country for many years and struck me as being in the too difficult to do box across agencies and national Government. The police were clearly being left with the responsibility despite them not having the clinical expertise and despite a criminal justice environment potentially worsening the individual’s chances and their health.
The ‘Staffordshire Report’, as it became known, I commissioned from Staffordshire Police provided the most detailed operational insight into the issue that had been side-lined by public services and Governments for what I was told was decades.
The local Mental Health Concordat we negotiated with all Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent agencies involved a substantial investment for additional mental health services from the budget I hold and formed the basis of progress here. I also brought in a mental health expert to bring the efforts of different agencies together on my behalf. It all led to a national effort to tackle this longstanding problem.
It’s not ‘fixed’ but an 81% reduction in the number of people with mental health issues being held in police cells is something I’m proud of. It’s probably not realistic to aim for zero as there will be some occasions where there is no other option. That said, the priority must be care services rather than criminal justice unless criminality or immediate safety issues are the issue.
Given the chance after May 5th I want to build on the success of the last 3 years of reducing the problem of different services and agencies working in silos rather than jointly towards common goals and objectives.
In circumstances where doing that will improve policing, community safety or criminal justice outcomes it makes sense to encourage and even incentivise a more joined up approach that deals with issues earlier, before they become bigger more serious problems. It saves money in the medium to long term and has big benefits in reducing harm and greater future demand.