by Steve Jones, MNH Journal editorial board member
I commenced working in criminal justice liaison in the 90’s after many reports and circulars highlighting the plight of those with mental health problems within the criminal justice system, from police stations through to prison discharge. Throughout the early 90’s the focus was on diversion from the system, although divert to what and who was a challenge. Governmental policy and funds generated interest for teams to in -reach into criminal justice settings, and the word ‘team’ often meant one or two professionals at the time. Now rightly the focus is towards liaison and not diversion within the system.
On 6th January 2014, a headline from the DH and Home Office proposed extra funding for mental health nurses to be based at police stations and courts across the country. Whilst this is welcoming for criminal justice teams, it is also at a time of significant reconfigurations and efficiencies, mental health nurses applying to stay in their posts, and service being redesigned and concern again as services are reduced then what and who criminal justice teams can refer to becomes a challenge again. But what drives these changes and new funding streams? Are they driven by the quality agenda or developing criminal justice services or perhaps by increasing prison occupancy levels, the Mental Health Act amendments, and further inquiries into tragedies? Criminal justice agencies such as the police increasingly having to fill the void that is being created as health and social services are being significantly pruned.
The case examples offered are as ever exemplary within the press release by the DH on the part of the Liverpool criminal justice liaison scheme, but this has taken 20 years of relationship building and interagency working by that team to develop. The extra funding for mental health professionals to work within police stations and courts is necessary, no more so than for those service users found isolated. Plugging the gaps being created by wider service efficiencies is taking from one pot and placing a little in another pot, and feels like Déjà vu.