Creating a fairer Britain
Oliver (not his real name) talked of an impulse to shoot people for what he termed the 'greater good' after he was charged with assault and criminal damage. When a psychologist assessed Oliver, it quickly became apparent that this 14 year-old boy suffered from psychosis and required urgent psychiatric support.
Oliver might have entered an adult court system without proper support for his mental health condition. Instead, the troubled youngster was given the assistance he required at an early stage in the judicial process, thanks to a scheme that aims to promptly identify juvenile offenders with health and social vulnerabilities. The scheme, called Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion (YJLD), reduces the likelihood of breaches of Article 6 of the Human Rights Act by adopting a welfare based approach based on early intervention. It ensures that the court understands and manages the mental health needs of young people who commit serious crimes. It also tries to prevent further offending by tackling the emotional and social problems that have led young people into trouble.
'Early intervention means we can improve a young person's mental health prospects or their engagement with school, which means they may avoid custody and offending again and have a greater chance of gaining employment.'
'In some cases youngsters were not getting support until perhaps two to three years after first becoming known to the police,' explains Lorraine Khan, national programme manager at the Centre for Mental Health. 'Early intervention means we can improve a young person's mental health prospects or their engagement with school, which means they may avoid custody and offending again and have a greater chance of gaining employment.'
This approach could deliver additional economic and social benefits. Imprisonment is expensive, and male youths who go to jail are six times more likely to be become young fathers and 15 times more likely to contract HIV than their peer group.
'We work closely with the police and screen under-18 year olds entering the justice system for a range of problems,' says Dr Rebecca Morland, a manager and consultant psychologist, who has worked in one site area. 'For those with less complex needs, we liaise with parents and help young people to get the necessary assistance. Where there are more complex needs, the children have access to a specialist mental health worker who can rapidly assess them and refer them to other services.'
YJLD immediately put in place a safety plan to ensure that Oliver received the psychological and psychiatric support he required.
Oliver's mental health problems had not been picked up and by the time he came to YJLD's attention he was 'very ill'. Oliver described suffering increasingly frequent and intense delusions and hallucinations over the previous year. He also claimed to have easy access to a gun which posed grave concerns for the safety of himself and others. YJLD immediately put in place a safety plan to ensure that Oliver received the psychological and psychiatric support he required. A report by YJLD regarding Oliver's mental health was considered by the magistrate, who gave him an 'absolute discharge'. Oliver, who continues to receive support, might well have gone to prison without YJLD. Without the report, a court may not have had the necessary information to ensure it reached a fair and appropriate decision.
The Department of Health and the Centre for Mental Health set up YJLD in 2009, and it is now operating in 37 areas.