Are Individual’s Mental Health Issues Treated Fairly by the Criminal Justice System?

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Are individual’s with Mental Health issues treated fairly by the Criminal Justice System? 1500 words. In this essay I will examine how individuals with mental health issues are treated by the Criminal Justice System and whether in modern day society it would be deemed fairly. The Mental Health Act of 1983 defined mental health issues as “mental illness, arrested or incomplete development of mind, psychopathic disorder and any other disorder or disability of mind". A more modern definition is a wide variety of mental conditions that affect a persons, mood, mind-set and behaviour. An example of a mental health condition is schizophrenia described as a “long term mental disorder leading to a breakdown between thought, emotion and behaviour causing faulty perceptions and inappropriate actions and feelings”. Historically there has always been a stigma attached to mental “issues”. Society as a whole express common stereotypes about people with mental illness and how it changes them. They believe they are violent and pose a risk to others. On the contrary these people are more likely to be attacked or self-harm, than to harm another. A lack of employment and long term relationships, poor quality of life and social isolation have all been linked to mental health. By being victim to discrimination and negative stereotypes sufferers find themselves trapped in a cycle of illness.

In 1845 the Lunacy Act was passed, this put pressure on counties to provide asylum for people suffering from mental health issues where they could be treated as patients and not prisoners. By 1990 nearly seventy asylums had been opened nationwide. The mental health act of 1983 updated in 2007 is the law in the United Kingdom that allows a person with a mental “disorder” to receive medical treatment and be admitted to medical facilities  hospitals without their consent. This will be done when there is a concern for their wellbeing or the safety of the people around them. There are different sections of the act under which patients can be admitted, treated or detained. When someone is “sectioned” they will be admitted to hospital with or without their consent. There are three types of professionals trained to deal with patients under the mental health act. Firstly mental health professions such as social workers or therapists whose role is to decide who needs to be admitted to hospitals. Secondly clinicians who will have overall responsibility for someone who has been sectioned. Finally doctors who are highly trained in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health illnesses. By having a structured systems of roles, systems and procedures for the recognition and treatment of mental health issues it ensures patients receive only the best care tailored for their individual needs. The Criminal Justice System is the process that punishes criminals and compensates the victims of crime. The aim of the Criminal Justice System is to ensure what is morally “right” is upheld within the standards set out by the law.

The Criminal Justice System encounters people suffering from mental health issues on a regular basis in a variety of roles. To establish whether they are treated fairly I will be looking at mental health suffers as suspects of a crime, witnesses, victims and finally prisoners within the United Kingdom. The purpose of the police is to maintain law and order in society. When a crime is committed it falls to the police to record and investigate it. The majority of society will only have a very limited involvement with the police. However when there is contact between people suffering from mental health issues and the police a slightly different approach may be needed. Special schemes can be put on any address if there is reason to believe the person residing at the address is at risk. A special scheme will cause any emergency call to be rated high risk and more than one police unit will be dispatched. The special scheme will contain information about the address and resident designed to assist the attending officers. Total victim care is a relatively new concept utilised by the Metropolitan Police, intended to raise the “customer” satisfaction level of people who come in contact with them. One way of doing this is by providing contact details of outside agencies that can be of assistance. For people with mental health issues this may bring to light help groups that before had been unknown to them. If someone is the suspect of a crime an interview will be conducted to ascertain their potential involvement. If someone suffers from mental health and is deemed “vulnerable” and unfit to be interviewed without assistance an appropriate adult will be required. Their role will be to assist the detained person to ensure they understand what is happening and the purpose of the interview.

In addition they will aid communication between the police and the person and ensure their legal rights are respected. If someone is charged with a crime their case will usually be heard at court. Victims or witnesses may have to give evidence in the presence and hearing of the person guilty of the crime. In any situation this is a daunting prospect even more so for people suffering from a mental illness. The victim or witness can give evidence via video link instead of being present in the court room, if this is not suitable special screens can be put up during the trial to hide the person’s appearance. Having a mental illness does not mean you cannot be guilty of an offence, however it must be proved that the person was aware of their actions and the likely consequences. There are two defences available to defendants with a recognised mental illness. The first defence is diminished responsibility, available for murder cases. If successful it will reduce the conviction to manslaughter. The defence was introduced by the Homicide Act 1957. To be eligible the defendant must be able to prove:

  1. At the time of committing the offence they had an “abnormality of mental functioning caused by a recognised medical condition”.
  2. Which provides an explanation as to their part in the killing.
  3. Which impaired their ability to:
  • Understand their behaviour.
  • Make a rational decision.
  • Show self-control.

Another available defence is insanity, available for all offences. If someone is found to be insane the court verdict will be “not guilty by reason of insanity”. Initially this would mean automatic admittance to a secure facility where release could only be granted by the home secretary. Now if an offence is fixed by law such as murder detention is automatic. In any other case it will be up to the judge. [6] By having defences such as the above it allows suffers of mental health to receive reduced convictions and sentences if it is deemed they did not have the mens rea (guilty mind) when they committed the offence. This recognises the fact that due to their “abnormality of mental functioning” they should not be treated as “guilty” as a person of sound mind. In the last ten years the percentage of prisoners in the UK suffering from mental health issues has increased significantly.

In 2006 the task of looking after their health care was passed to the National Health Service, their goal to provide the same access to health services as the general public. The NHS provided specialist teams to work with prisoners suffering from mental health problems. This has increased the quality of mental health care being provided. However a lack of guidance and the ever changing prison populations has proved difficult. In addition due to a lack of trained staff and overcrowding in prisons there is substantial evidence to suggest that prisons are failing to reduce offending and that the social and financial costs are not proportionate. Not all prisons have a 24/7 care facility. Reports have indicated that if they do they spend the majority of their resources on inmates with mental health problems. If a detained person requires treatment under the Mental Health Act, they will be transported to an NHS Hospital as the act does not allow for treatment to be administered in a prison.

Outside agencies will carry out mental health assessments for inmates if required, unfortunately due to a lack of communication between the agencies previous records may not be shared. This can cause multiple initial assessments to be carried out and existing mental health conditions to remain undiagnosed. The existence of trained staff, medical facilities and treatment available to prisoners for the diagnosis, treatment and aftercare of mental health issues in prison all support the case that people with mental health issues are treated fairly in that section of the criminal justice system. However as highlighted there are still issues in existence primarily due to a lack of funding and trained staff.  To conclude I have looked at the existence of mental health issues in the criminal justice system and the many forms they take. From the start to the finish of the system there are procedures and processes to ensure that mental health illnesses are diagnosed, recognised, treated and taken into consideration when appropriate. Because of this there is more evidence than not to suggest people with mental health issues are treated fairly within the system. Although more work is needed to ensure the processes put in place are more efficient and better suited to the task the face.

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Are individual's Mental Health issues treated fairly by the Criminal Justice System?. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved July 22, 2024 , from

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