Wednesday, 15 January 2014
Delivering the Care not Custody promise
A staggering two thirds of all men, women and children in prison have two or more mental health problems. Depression and schizophrenia are most common, yet we know many prisoners have a history of self-harm and attempted suicide. Evidence about this modern day scandal has built up over a course of years, so the pledge of an extra £25m funding for mental health nurses and professionals to work with police stations and courts, proved a welcome start to the New Year. The investment will assist the development of a nationwide liaison and diversion network to ensure that people with mental health needs are diverted from police stations and courts into treatment or social care settings where they can get the support that they need at an early stage. Rather than being places of last resort, in too many instances police cells and prison have been default options. This is not just damaging for the individuals concerned but it places a duty of care on police and stretched prison estate staff, resulting in an intolerable and unsustainable strain on the system. The WI’s Care not Custody campaign was launched following the tragic death by suicide of a young man with schizophrenia, the son of a WI member, in Manchester prison. Our member brought her experience to her local WI, and then in turn the whole of the national organisation through our resolutions process. Her experience highlighted a systematic and wide-spread failing of some of our most vulnerable citizens; a failing that our members were determined to address. Working in conjunction with campaign partners the Prison Reform Trust, WI members have worked hard to highlight what for too long has been a hidden issue. In the years since Care not Custody was launched in 2008, members have taken the campaign to heart; visiting prisons and women’s centres to better understand what life is like in the criminal justice system for people with mental health needs, and lobbying MPs to call for the resources to deliver on the recommendations set out in the Bradley report. Following the government’s 2011 commitment to roll out a liaison and diversion network nationally by the end of 2014, the Care not Custody Coalition was convened to demonstrate the breadth of support that there is for an effective liaison and diversion service and to work together to support the government in keeping its ‘care not custody promise.’ The Coalition is a unique partnership of professional bodies and charities across the health and justice sectors and wider civil society representing over two million people. While the timeframe for developing a national service has now slipped back to 2017, the funding announcement is encouraging and the WI will remain committed to ensuring that the care not custody promise is kept.