June 15, 2010: Courts & Mentally Disordered Offenders
Pilot schemes are testing new ways for courts to address offending behaviour in people with mental health issues. The Mental Health Court pilot model has been designed to tackle underlying issues in order to reduce re-offending among mentally disordered defendants.
The starting point is the effective identification of those with mental health needs. A whole range of staff from across the trial process can play a part in initiating referrals where they have concerns - for example police, court ushers, solicitors, and Crown Prosecution Service staff.
A dedicated Mental Health Court practitioner conducts a face-to-face assessment, which can provide the court with relevant information about the defendant’s health and enable timely access to other services.
It also equips the court’s dedicated Mental Health Team, which includes the practitioner and Probation Service staff, to make sentencing recommendations which make the most effective use of existing options. Regular post-sentence reviews track the progress of any sentence with a mental health element, to support compliance.
The pilots are showing how effectively the different bodies involved can work together with the right procedures, which all fit within existing court structures and processes.
The pilot schemes at magistrates’ courts in Stratford (East London) and Brighton are in the process of being evaluated, and the lessons learned will be incorporated into new approaches to offenders with these needs across the whole Criminal Justice system.