Living With Schizophrenia

Police cells as place of safety

Posted: Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Since the 1983 Mental Health Act came into force, police stations have routinely been used to detain people with schizophrenia thought to be at risk of harming themselves or someone else for short periods pending assessment by a psychiatrist and transfer to a local mental health unit.

There have been several recent high profile cases where young people have been detained in police cells for prolonged periods because no suitable places were available at the local mental health unit and the Home Office, the government department responsible for policing, has issued new guidance intended to eliminate this practice. However we believe that this new government policy, whilst strong on rhetoric, is fundamentally flawed.

Whilst the new guidance laudably emphasises the use of police cells only where other settings are not appropriate it bizarrely suggests that people in danger should be housed with friends or relatives until a mental health bed becomes available.

In addition the new guidelines do nothing to recognise that the core problem here is the chronic shortage of beds and particularly secure beds in the mental health system, the result of years of cutbacks by governments.

Whilst Living with Schizophrenia believes that detaining people with schizophrenia in the criminal system rather than in the health system is both morally wrong and counter-therapeutic, we cannot see that this practice can realistically be ended until sufficient beds are provided in the mental health system and until that time a police cell will continue to be a safer place than the parapet of London Bridge.

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