Young women in police custody are being deprived of support to safeguard their mental health, a report has claimed.
More than two-thirds of young women in custody have mental health needs. Image: Phil Adams
The study by Independent Academic Research Studies (IARS), found that underlying mental health issues can go unnoticed and undiagnosed in custody.
Young women interviewed for the study stressed the importance of appropriate opportunities to disclose their problems in confidence to female, as opposed to male, officers as soon as possible after entering police custody.
It also emerged that girls who ended up in custody for a second time rarely had their mental health needs checked again, despite the fact that their circumstances may have changed since previous contact with police.
The report claimed that spotting and addressing underlying mental health issues in police custody would allow young women to be diverted to appropriate services, including counselling and rehabilitation, instead of leaving them with a caution and a high chance of ending up back in custody.
Academic research reviewed by the report found that 71 per cent of girls in young offender institutions (YOIs) in the UK have mental health needs.
Alison Saunders, chief crown prosecutor for London, said the findings from the study should make a valuable contribution to policy discussions affecting the treatment of young women with mental health needs in the criminal justice system.
“Recommendations regarding the need for a more gender sensitive approach to encouraging young women to talk about their mental health needs while in police custody are particularly welcome," she added.
Theo Gavrielides, IARS founder and director, said: "When users of the criminal justice system are listened to and their needs are carefully considered, the chances of working effectively with them are massively increased.”
The report findings were based on in-depth interviews with 24 young women aged between 16 and 25, with interviews conducted by 12 young female peer researchers, with the project funded through the Big Lottery Fund.
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