Innovative mental health project receives worldwide attention

An innovative mental health project, based at the Milton Keynes probation office in Buckinghamshire is attracting attention from across the world as a beacon of best practice.

As well as being named Runner-Up for a Howard League for Penal Reform award in July, it was selected to be the focus of one of the workshops for the World Probation Congress held in Los Angeles earlier that month.

The innovative project, which began in April 2014, has seen a dramatic improvement in the use and effectiveness of mental health treatment for offenders, which, in turn, can lead to a significant reduction in re-offending. It is proof of the successful way in which multi-discipline agencies can effectively work together.

It offers enhanced and coordinated mental health services to offenders who present with mental health vulnerabilities at their first court hearing.

The pilot brings together a number of therapeutic psychological treatments and social care models, which are being independently evaluated. The approach is holistic, so that health and social care issues are addressed both before and after sentence.

More than 100 offenders have now passed through the pilot. This contrasts with just one in Milton Keynes and 13 across Thames Valley as a whole in 2013.

It demonstrates how effectively psychological interventions can be sequenced with other psychiatric illness treatments or offer those with lower level mental/psychological needs an alternative treatment.

Independently evaluated health and justice metrics are being used to look at each person’s criminogenic score, to ensure that the service offered is leading to a reduction in re-offending.

This, in turn means fewer victims and less cost to the public purse, in terms of police, probation and courts’ time, compared to the cost of treatments provided.

The project is a partnership between Thames Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (TV-CRC), St Andrew’s Healthcare (a specialist mental health charity), P3 (a social enterprise charity) and the National Probation Service (NPS).

It is supported through a wider steering group, which includes representatives from NHS England (which funds the pilot), Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service, solicitors, the Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS England.

“What we’re offering is an integrated wraparound service at the right time and with the right connections,” said Denise Butt, who chairs the project’s steering group and is Thames Valley Community Rehabilitation Company’s lead for public protection and partnerships.

Denise will be travelling to Los Angeles to deliver the workshop presentation, alongside the project lead from St Andrew’s Healthcare, Mignon French. The presentation will detail the training programme for the Judiciary, probation and health staff and will describe the process and treatment models, plus the evaluation and results to date.

“Poor health and particularly poor mental health gets in the way of people getting on with their lives. What we’re trying to do with this project is not a ‘sticking plaster’ option but a real way of removing obstacles to good mental health treatment and additional community support, which can stop someone from going on to harm their own life and those of others,’ said Denise.

“If you’ve got no home, no job, no future and, on top of all that you have mental health issues, you won’t have any self-worth or hope for the future. We’re trying to give people the right skills and confidence, plus the right support, at the right time and signposting, so people can access the help they need to get on with crime-free lives,” she added.

This pilot is taking place at a time when it is generally recognised that across England and Wales there is a lack of provision in the mainstream mental health services that support the specific needs of offenders. Many present with complex mental health and social care issues and it’s important that the underlying causes of the offending behaviour are addressed, if we are to reduce the likelihood of further offending.

Research has estimated that at almost 40% of offenders supervised by probation services in England and Wales have mental health problems. However, investment in research focusing on the mental health needs of offenders serving community sentences has been limited.

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