Leading criminal justice and health charities are calling on the government to strengthen the law so that anyone being considered for a prison sentence must have a relevant up to date pre-sentence report before a court can imprison them. The recommendation closely follows the recent HMI Probation report which exposed their “shock” that three quarters of people given short prison sentences did not have any report on their needs prior to the sentencing decision despite current guidelines stating that this should happen unless the court deems it unnecessary.
The charities argue that current guidelines are insufficient and ineffective. A recent independent poll commissioned by Revolving Doors Agency shows that public expect much better from our criminal justice system:
- 76% of people think that magistrates should know whether someone has a mental health condition before sentencing them
- 68% of people think that magistrates should know whether someone has a learning disability before sentencing them.
Today’s call is made by Revolving Doors Agency, Centre for Mental Health, Prison Reform Trust, The Disabilities Trust and Transform Justice.
The call forms part of a new report entitled In Ten Years Time  being launched at a major health and justice conference mark the 10th anniversary of Lord Bradley’s report on improving outcomes for people with mental ill-health and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system. The report, co-authored by Revolving Doors Agency and Centre for Mental Health, argues that far too many people are still being sent to prison despite significant vulnerabilities.
There has been a 29 per cent fall in the number of pre-sentence reports completed from July-September 2013 to July-September 2018. The Probation Inspectors stated that “We were shocked to find that pre-sentence reports were prepared for the courts before imposing a short prison sentence in less than one in four cases in our sample. In the majority of cases, judges and magistrates do not appear to have an assessment of why someone reoffended, their current circumstances or the potential for community sentences as an alternative to custody.”
Whilst calling on the government to do more to counter the fall in pre-sentence reports, the charities’ report 10 Years On commends the government for approaching full national roll out of Liaison and Diversion services, key to ensuring assessment is made of people’s vulnerabilities.
Commenting on the report, Lord Bradley said: “We need to ensure all the relevant information is available to the courts to support appropriate sentencing. If we can improve assessment and information sharing, fewer people with mental ill-health or learning disabilities will end up in prison in the first place.”
Christina Marriott, Chief Executive of Revolving Doors Agency said: “The government must redouble its effort to ensure that people with mental ill-health and addictions are not sent to prison when alternatives are more effective. It is unacceptable that magistrates and judges routinely send people to prison without the information to make a fully informed decision.”
Revolving Doors Lived Experience member, Allie, said: “Prison can make things worse for people with mental ill-health and addiction. It is important to effectively rehabilitate, not just punish.”
Centre for Mental Health Chief Executive Sarah Hughes said: “Ten years on from Lord Bradley’s landmark report, liaison and diversion teams are now there to help people in most police stations and courts in England. This is an enormous achievement on the part of the NHS. This must now be matched by wider reform to the criminal justice system to prioritise wellbeing and effective rehabilitation for people with mental health difficulties and other vulnerabilities.”
- HMI Probation https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/inspections/prs/
- Populus poll of 2080 British adults commissioned by Revolving Doors Agency. Fieldwork undertaken 5th-6th June 2019.
- Revolving Doors Agency and Centre for Mental Health, 10 Years On, June 2019
- HMI Probation, p13 https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/inspections/prs/
A report by Revolving Doors Agency and Centre for Mental Health,Co-Chairs of the Bradley Report Group on improving outcomes for people with mental ill-health, learning disability, developmental disorders or neuro-diverse conditions in the criminal justice system