New approach to help offenders who are addicts or mentally ill
MENTAL health workers in Bristol have taken inspiration from New York in an attempt to prevent prisoners re-offending.
Offenders are being assessed for mental health problems and substance misuse issues sooner due to health staff being based alongside the police and the probation team.
And now Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership's Specialist Drug and Alcohol Service has a new contract to provide services inside Horfield Prison, pictured, so that offenders can be supported from arrest to court, in prison and after they are released.
The new contract, which has been agreed with NHS Bristol and the Safer Bristol Partnership, is using an innovative model of psychosocial services. It has been developed in response to services offered in New York, which regional criminal justice services manager Martin McLean saw for himself three years ago.
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Many of the prisoners with drug or alcohol issues are arrested in connection with theft and robbery to feed their habits and the belief is that dealing with their addictions while they are in the criminal justice system could reduce crime.
Criminal justice manager for Bristol and South Gloucestershire Michael Dunn said: "Now we have a team of criminal justice workers that work alongside the police in custody suites and when an offender comes in they will get tested for substance misuse and if they test positive that is where our staff come in to address their substance misuse needs, whether we use substitute prescribing, or abstinence.
"That's where our seamless intervention starts really – at the custody suite."
Offenders are screened for substance misuse and mental health problems and the custody support workers can work with those at the courts and their colleagues in prison to ensure that the help they need continues.
Mr Dunn said the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership criminal justice team was now based in the new police station The Bridewell.
"Our practitioners, which include mental health nurses, harm reduction nurses, drug and alcohol professionals, are based in that office alongside police officers and probation case managers.
"That is a really innovative approach and something we are really proud of.
"We are actually sitting on the seat next to the police officer and probation officer who can sit and talk with us about the offender who requires assessment for substance misuse or mental health needs and we can action that quite quickly."
The managers said that the new approach also meant fewer mental health assessments were needed through the different phases of the criminal justice system, providing better value for money.
Mr Dunn said: "One of the key things for us, commissioners, the community and everyone who lives in Bristol is to reduce re-offending.
"Bristol has been put out there as a beacon of good practice when it comes to managing offenders."
Mr McLean said that prisoners can be moved out of the system at any time – such as to an abstinence unit – if they are found to be severely mentally ill and they are halving the national targets for moving prisoners to hospital.
"We are making sure that these people are not hanging about in the wrong place or the wrong prison without treatment," he said.
Mr Dunn said: "We are really excited about the new project. It means we are able to deliver the level of care we want for service users within the criminal justice system."