Mental ill-health and fair criminal justice | Letter

Too many people are sent to prison without magistrates or judges seeing an up-to-date pre-sentence report, say experts including Keith Bradley, author of the Bradley report

It is now 10 years since the publication of the landmark Bradley report on mental ill-health and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system. This week a new report, 10 Years On, recommends further change to ensure that people with mental ill-health and addictions are not sent to prison when alternatives are more effective.

The report finds that too many people are sent to prison without magistrates or judges seeing an up-to-date pre-sentence report. This report, provided by probation, includes vital information on whether the person has a mental health condition or learning disability. It is unacceptable that sentencers are often sending people to prison without the information that would enable them to make the right decision.

There has been a 29% fall in the number of pre-sentence reports completed (from the period July-September 2013 to the period July-September 2018). The Probation Inspectorate has recently expressed “shock” that three-quarters of people given short prison sentences did not have any report on their needs prior to the sentencing decision.

The public expects more from our criminal justice system; a recent poll conducted by Populus found that three-quarters of the public think magistrates should know whether someone has a mental health condition before they pass sentence. It is clear that the government must redouble its efforts to ensure a fairer and more effective justice system. A key part of that is to prevent anyone being sentenced to prison or community without a relevant court report. Speed must not trump justice.
Rt Hon Lord Bradley
Christina Marriott Chief executive, Revolving Doors Agency
Sarah Hughes Chief executive, Centre for Mental Health
Irene Sobowale Chief executive, The Disabilities Trust
Peter Dawson Director, Prison Reform Trust
Penelope Gibbs Director, Transform Justice

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