Police Cells Used to Detain People Suffering with Mental Health

In the UK last year there was 4,500 occasions where people were held in police cells because they were suffering with a mental health problem.

A police force in Wales has recently stated that they are trying to work really hard with the NHS to avoid this. The police force are wanting to find ways to get people into appropriate places rather than police cells.

New figures released this week revealed a total of 4,537 instances of police custody being used to accommodate people under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. This is actually a fall in numbers since last year, but it is still an outrageously high figure.

This issue has caused controversy as the people being held under this act are not suspected of committing any crimes but they are in police custody, potentially being treated like criminals.

Just last month the health secretary, Home Secretary Theresa May, has announced there are £15m in funds available to provide health-based alternatives to this.

Currently section 136 provides police with the power to remove people who are considered to have a mental disorder to a ‘place of safety’ and detain them without their consent. They can be held for a maximum of 72 hours.

Crime Commissioner, Alun Michael, has stressed how South Wales Police are working very hard with the NHS to find ways of getting people with mental health problems the help they need in a supported, appropriate environment. The problem isn’t the fact that someone is in custody, the problem is that there actually isn’t anywhere else to go for their own safety and welfare.

Crime Commissioner wants to make it clear that it is not the police’s fault and he believes they are just protecting the individual from harming themselves or others.

More deployment of mental health nurses in custody suites has helped the situation and police staff are going to great lengths to get the right help for everyone. The reduction in the amount of people being held in custody under section 136 (from 2013 -2014) does demonstrate that some strategies are working currently, but it just isn’t enough at the moment unfortunately.

A spokesperson from the Home Office has added: ‘The right place for a person suffering a mental health crisis is a bed, not a police cell, and the right people to look after them are medically trained professionals, not police officers.’