23 February 2009

Diverting people with mental health problems from prison is good value for taxpayers money but existing diversion arrangements are not achieving their potential, says a report published today by Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.

Diversion: A better way for criminal justice and mental health finds that court diversion and liaison schemes in England only work with one in five of the people with mental health problems who go through the criminal justice system. Many opportunities for diversion are being missed and too little is being done to ensure that offenders with mental health problems make continuing use of community mental health services.

The report concludes that good quality diversion offers excellent value for money to the taxpayer. It can reduce the costs of expensive court proceedings and unnecessary imprisonment of people on remand or sentence. It can reduce the risk of re-offending among people who get mental health treatment in the community instead of being imprisoned. And it can improve people's mental health, which benefits them, their families and society as a whole.

It finds that there is an especially strong case for diverting people who commit comparatively minor offences from short prison sentences to community sentences. For each person who is diverted from a prison service and who gets good quality mental health care in their community, an average of £20,000 can be saved in crime-related costs alone.

But in the absence of a clear national policy framework, diversion services have developed in a piecemeal and haphazard way. Many schemes are insecurely funded and there is an unacceptably wide degree of variation in their ways of working.

Audience: Government, local commissioners, criminal justice agencies

Free to download below.

Download Diversion PDF (646 KB)

Download the summary PDF (180 KB)

International evidence

Some of the research that went into the report came from international evidence that we gathered at a video conference. World-renowned experts from seven countries discussed issues such as getting support for diversion, the cost benefits, local initiatives, what people might be diverted into and multi-agency working. A summary of the conference is available to download below.

Download Video Conference Summary (44 KB)