Criminal justice and mental health: Report identifies ‘broken’ system of data-sharing between agencies

Study warned that the impact of mental illness is being ‘missed at every stage’ of the criminal justice system

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The Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Department for Health and Social Care and the Welsh Government must agree how to share information on the mental health of people in the criminal justice system, six inspectorates have said in a report that says people with mental illnesses are being “missed at every stage”.

The report by inspectorates covering England and Wales identified “significant problems” in information exchange in every agency and at every stage of an individual’s journey through the criminal justice system.

“This part of the system is broken and needs to be fixed urgently,” the report said.

It recommended that the organisations should develop a memorandum of understanding on information sharing to promote better joint working. They should also agree common definitions of mental health problems, to help identify and flag cases consistently, it said.

The recommendations appeared in a A joint thematic inspection of the criminal justice journey for individuals with mental health needs and disorders, published by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, HM Inspectorate of Probation, the Care Quality Commission and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.

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“The criminal justice system is failing people with a mental illness. At every stage, their needs are being missed and they face unacceptable delays in getting support. Not enough progress has been made since our last joint inspection 12 years ago to put right these critical shortfalls,” said Justin Russell, chief inspector of probation, on behalf of the heads of all six inspectorates.

“Police forces, prosecutors, prisons and probation services all assess individuals in different ways, which leads to gaps and inconsistencies. Even when mental health needs are identified, the information is not always recorded fully or used to make effective decisions,” he added.

The transfer of mental health information by police to the Crown Prosecution Service is “generally weak”, with officers often failing to include relevant material, the report added.

Confused by GDPR
The report said agencies in all sectors were confused by the General Data Protection Regulation effectively introduced in 2018’s Data Protection Act. It said that this has led to community mental health service providers refusing to provide information on the mental health of probation practitioners’ clients, despite the act having an exemption for sharing data for justice purposes.

Similarly, police officers interviewed for the report were unclear about when they could share such information with the Crown Prosecution Service.

The inspectors called on the probation service to review guidance within the next six months to help probation practitioners identify and accurately record mental health needs. It also said HM Prison Service should work with NHS England and Improvement and the Welsh Government to tackle long waiting lists for mental health treatment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report was based on reviews of more than 300 cases and interviews with 550 professionals. An agency, Penal Reform Solutions, interviewed 67 people with mental health issues who had contact with the criminal justice system.


Sam Trendall

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