Writing for The Conversation, Karen Snedker (Academic Visitor, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford ) says:
“Severe mental illness is on the rise in the UK, and an increasing number of people with mental illness are behind bars and supported by inadequate mental health services. This is a situation that could be improved by the introduction of courts specifically geared for hearing cases involving defendants with mental health issues.
In England, there are more than 31,000 people with mental health problems in prison. In one sample of prisons in England and Wales, more than one-third reported significant symptoms of anxiety or depression and 10% were identified as having a psychotic disorder.
The neglect and mistreatment of defendants with mental health issues raises human rights concerns.
The prevalence rate of defendants with serious mental illness coming before UK courts is not well known. As of 2006, one study estimates that slightly more than 1% of defendants appearing at magistrates’ courts were identified as having a serious mental illness – and the percentage rose dramatically to almost 7% for those held in custody. The numbers for those falling under the broader “mental disorder” categorisation are undoubtedly higher. The majority of offenders with mental health issues go through the normal sentencing process.
There are some safeguards. The Crown Prosecution Service may discontinue the prosecution in cases of minor offences, especially if there is past evidence of a hospital order. Or if questions of fitness (for the trial process or to plead) are raised, it triggers a psychiatric assessment. This can lead to a hospital order, supervision order or, in rare cases, absolute discharge. If remanded to hospital for treatment, the majority respond to treatment and the trial process continues.
Efforts are increasing to provide more mental health services throughout the court process – but not under a specialist court model …”
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