IPCC condemns use of police cells for Mentally ill

A report published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) 'Police Custody as a “Place of Safety” has revealed that police cells are being used as a primary destination to detain people for assessment under the Mental Health Act.

The Mental Health Act section 136 empowers police to take someone suffering mental health problems to a “place of safety” where they can be assessed by a professional. Police detention is viewed as a last resort in exceptional circumstances to make such an assessment. The report which collected national data from 43 police forces reveals that police cells are actually being used as the main place of safety.

The report reveals twice as many people are detained in unsuitable police custody for assessment under the Mental Health Act as those taken by the police to hospital. And there are huge regional differences to how forces are detaining people. Cheshire Police and Merseyside Police reported low levels of detention under section 136 (one per 10,000 people in custody), while Sussex Police and Devon and Cornwall Police reported high rates (277 per 10,000 and 174 per 10,000 respectively).

This is despite £100 million being  allocated by the Department of Health to increase the number of health based places of safety and improve intensive psychiatric units. Due to staffing costs have not been taken into account, places of safety have been built but are sitting empty as health trusts cannot afford to staff them. One newly built place of safety is currently being used as a stock room the IPCC report has revealed.

Ian Bynoe, IPCC Commissioner with national responsibility for mental health, said: “Someone whose distress or strange behaviour causes the police concern needs rapid medical and social assessment in a safe environment. It is therefore intolerable that even though it has been Government policy since 1990 that a hospital is the preferred place of safety for such an assessment our research shows that twice as many people are detained in police custody as in a more fitting hospital environment.

“Police custody is an unsuitable environment for someone with mental illness and may make their condition worse, particularly if they are not dealt with quickly, appropriately and don’t receive the care they need. The continued use of cells not only diverts police resources from fighting crime, but criminalises behaviour which is not a crime. A police cell should only be used when absolutely necessary, for example when someone is violent, and not as a convenience.”

Mind's Policy Director, Sophie Corlett, commenting on the findings said:-
"Police are not mental health experts and do not have training or resources to provide the care that vulnerable people need. Both Mind and police groups have been saying for years that police cells should only be used as places of safety when all other options have been exhausted.

"It's a shambles that despite extra government investment to provide new, health-based places of safety, the funding does not extend to cover staffing costs and in some areas places of safety are standing empty. A much needed resource is going to waste."

Last year, research by Mind revealed that some people with mental health problems who had been held in police cells as a place of safety had been strip-searched, been left naked in a cell, left cold, hungry and thirsty, not given the medication they needed, been restrained by more than one officer and been insulted or patronised. In almost all cases, they were left feeling vulnerable and distressed.

Having experienced first hand the horrors of being detained in a police cell while suffering suicidal tendencies one respondent said:
"It's got to have been the most awful night of my life - I still have flashbacks about it. It was the most awful, tawdry experience, not the sort of thing you'd ever expect. I was in there for about 14 hours, and it was 12 hours before I saw a doctor, and five hours before they brought me a drink. You were a prisoner, a criminal."

The report makes a number of recommendations, to read the report in more detail click the link below.

link to report


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Asif Yusuf



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