Lord Bradley's Review of People with Mental Health Problems or Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lord Bradley's review and recommendations into the problems faced by prisoners with mental health issues has been published.

What is the Bradley review about? In December 2007, Lord Bradley - a former Home Office minister - was asked by the government to undertake an independent review into prisoners with mental health problems and learning disabilities. It had two aims: to examine the extent to which offenders with mental health problems or learning disabilities could be diverted from prison to other services, and what barriers might prevent such diversion; and to make recommendations on the organisation of effective court liaison and diversion arrangements and the services needed to support them. Over time, the review began to look at the whole offender pathway. The issue of whether and how to look at the needs of young people in the criminal justice system also changed as the review progressed.

Who did he talk to? Police, court staff, prison officers, social work and health practitioners, voluntary sector workers, prisoners, their carers and families.

What about young people? Originally, Lord Bradley was going to look at under-18s as a "key element" of the overall prison population. He soon realised that that approach did not give him sufficient scope to explore or represent the crucial differences.

Different how? The ways in which learning difficulties or mental health problems are identified and categorised; in children, that identification often focuses on conduct rather than intelligence or social functioning. Also, since the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the youth justice system is distinct from the adult system, changing the nature of diversion activities that are available and the points at which they can be accessed. For instance, young people who are identified as being at risk of becoming involved in antisocial or criminal activity can receive support services before they commit an offence. In a way, that enhances the possibilities of diversion.

What does he recommend? In its initial response to the report, the government groups the 82 recommendations, placing three under a children and young people heading. School and primary healthcare staff should have mental health and learning disability awareness training. Youth offending teams (YOTs) must have a suitably qualified mental health worker who has responsibility for making referrals to services. And the government should undertake a separate review to look at the potential for early intervention and diversion for children and young people. The government has accepted each of these in principle.

Anything else? Quite a bit on "appropriate adults", with recommendations for better training and a review of their role. And an interesting recommendation that information on a person's mental health or learning disability needs to be obtained prior to the issuing of any antisocial behaviour order or penalty notice for disorder. These too have been agreed in principle. More broadly, the government has agreed to establish a national programme board to include representatives from the Department of Health, Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Welsh Assembly Government.

- Lisa Payne, policy unit, National Children's Bureau.

FACT FILE

- In 2006, over 30 per cent of YOTs did not have a mental health worker, although 40 per cent of the young people they worked with had mental health needs

 Lord Bradley's Review of People with Mental Health Problems or Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System

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