The Royal College of Psychiatrists has called for more offenders to be given a community order with a Mental Health Treatment Requirement, as opposed to a jail term.

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Mental health in the criminal justice system

There is a disproportionate number of people in prison with mental health disorders relative to the rest of the population. Now, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has published a report on the issue, saying more needs to be done to help offenders with mental health disorders. In particular, the report highlights that thousands of people are in prison because there were no safer alternatives available when they were sentenced, such as a Mental Health Treatment Requirement (MHTR).

What is a Mental Health Treatment Requirement?

A Mental Health Treatment Requirement (MHTR) can be attached to a community order during sentencing. It allows the offender to be released back into the community, on the provision that they attend mental health treatment.

All community sentences are customised to meet the needs of the offender and the community and to minimise the risk of reoffending. Where an MHTR is ordered, a clinician meets with the offender and completes a full assessment. A treatment plan is then devised, potentially providing access to therapy, probation and social services support.

An MHTR can be imposed as part of a community order for a maximum of three years.

Who is eligible for an MHTR?

An MHTR can only be imposed on a person who:

  • Has the capacity to understand the court proceedings; and
  • Has the capacity to understand the sentence proposed; and
  • Agrees to the requirements before they are imposed

How effective are MHTRs?

Traditionally, there is a high level of reoffending amongst those who are given short sentences. In fact, research has shown that twothirds of those subject to short sentences reoffend within 12 months. However, the outcome is likely to be much better where an MHTR is imposed. In these cases, just a third of men and 15% of women go on to reoffend within 12 months.

MHTRs also save the taxpayer money, as it costs more to keep a person in prison than to release an offender on a community sentence.

Why aren’t more MHTRs being used?

MHTRs have been available as a sentencing option for quite some time in England and Wales. Yet the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates in the report that there are 1,600 people serving a prison sentence of fewer than 12 months who would have been eligible for an MHTR. It also estimates that a further 6,400 prisoners serving sentences longer than 12 months may also have been eligible.

So, why aren’t MHTR’s being used more?

Professor Pamela Taylor, the lead author of the Royal College’s report, says people with mental disorders are “being failed by a system that overlooks the use of Mental Health Treatment Requirements”. She added: “Sending them to prison for quite minor offences may be dangerous for the offenderpatients and may harm the wider community too. Reoffending rates are high when people are locked away for a short period while their problems remain unsolved or increase.”

What’s next?

The Royal College is seeking £12 million in funding from the government so that MHTRs are available for those who need them.

Other efforts have also been made to improve uptake, with the use of MHTRs slowing rising thanks to the pilot of the Community Sentence Treatment Requirements (CSTR). The programme allows primary care practitioners and clinical psychologists to provide individualised psychological interventions within a treatment plan.

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