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Mental Health

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015

12. What recent discussions he has had on the treatment of people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system. (900496)

Addressing the individual mental health needs of offenders and ensuring continuity of service from the community into custody are essential to wellbeing and rehabilitation. We work closely with the Department of Health and with the Welsh Government, who have responsibility for the commissioning of health services, in order to address this important issue.

May I welcome the Minister to her position? Autism is a lifelong developmental disability, which often mistakenly gets classified under mental health issues, especially in the criminal justice system where too many people do not get the help they need. I am heartened that many prisoners are now seeking accreditation from the National Autistic Society for the skills and the support required for people with autism, but we need better understanding in our courts and in the Crown Prosecution Service. Will the Minister update me on the long-awaited aide-mémoire and support material for the CPS prosecutors that the Department was going to produce after the Think Autism adult strategy was published?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her very kind welcome. I would like to praise her for her ongoing commitment to this really important issue, particularly her work steering the Autism Act 2009 on to the statute book. We are clear that we need a system that ensures that the most vulnerable have access to the right support and help. That is why we are putting in place a programme of reforms to improve the experience of vulnerable victims and witnesses in court, as well as enhanced protection outside.

I welcome both the Minister and the Lord Chancellor to their places. In November 2014, Argoed, a close-knit community in my constituency, was rocked by the horrific murder of Cerys Yemm. She was killed by a prisoner who had just been released and sent to stay in a bed and breakfast. Neither the council nor the landlady was told of his mental health issues. He could not get hold of the mental health medication he needed, the result of which was this unfortunate incident. His mother says that he was in and out of the criminal justice system all his life. He would go into a hostel, and then back to prison when he committed another crime. I thank the Lord Chancellor for agreeing to meet me to discuss this case. Will the Department now launch an urgent investigation into how we monitor the mental health of former prisoners?

It is really important that we carefully monitor how mental health is regarded from within the community into the prison system and then back out into the community again. I know that the Secretary of State and the prisons Minister have agreed to meet the hon. Gentleman and I am sure that they will listen carefully to everything that he has to say.

Further to that question, does the Minister agree that when somebody has had a psychiatric assessment in prison, the information about their condition should be shared with all services, including social services and the police, when they leave prison? That would ensure that we had continuity of information about their condition so that when they came back into society we were clear about what we needed to do with them.

Yes, in the community, community rehabilitation companies and the National Probation Service are required to ensure that offenders comply with court-ordered treatment services. Probation services also supply offenders with access to mainstream mental health treatment by referring as appropriate.

To protect and ensure sufficient access for people with mental health problems, the Justice Committee urged the Government in 2011—reaffirmed in a 2015 report—to carry out research into the geographical distribution of legal aid providers to avoid irreparable loss of capacity. What progress has been made on that recommendation?

I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the exact details, but NHS England has developed national specifications for health and justice services. All prisons now have clear commissioning models, and that works as people leave prison and move into the community rehabilitation service as well.