Assessment of the mental health of individuals serving a sentence affected by this Act

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 7th July 2020.

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“(1) Where an individual is serving a sentence affected by this Act, they must be subject to an annual assessment of their mental health for the duration of their sentence and their term on licence.

(2) Where an assessment under subsection (1) indicates—

(a) a mental health condition; or

(b) a deterioration in a mental health condition since the previous assessment

the Secretary of State must take measures to treat such a mental health condition.”

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 9 would require a mental health assessment of an individual who has committed a terror offence to be carried out annually for the duration of their sentence and their term on licence. It would also require that where a mental health condition is found, or where there has been a deterioration of a mental health condition since the previous assessment, the Secretary of State must take measures to treat the mental health condition.

I am not a mental health professional and I do not claim to understand the psychology behind why somebody commits or plans to commit an act of terrorism, but it strikes me as eminently sensible to carry out regular mental health assessments of those who have committed an offence under the Bill, not because there is any correlation between having a mental health condition and committing acts of terrorism, but because mental health conditions can turn people into who they are not. By treating mental health conditions, we can provide support and reduce the chance of further criminal acts being carried out when a prisoner is released.

This is not just about preventing terrorism; it is about how we treat each other as people. It is common for people to wander down the wrong path. Of course, some paths are much more dangerous than others and it is right that people are appropriately sentenced for their crimes, but I can only imagine what it is like to be in prison for years on end. A few hours in my local Holme House Prison in Stockton is certainly enough for me. I cannot fathom what impact being in prison for a long sentence has on an individual’s mental health year after year, and time spent in prison without receiving treatment can make an existing mental health condition much worse. The individual released into society after their prison sentence has been served is left to struggle with their mental health condition. It is a recipe for disaster, but we can take simple precautions to address the problem.

Prisons and the Government have a duty of care for the physical and mental wellbeing of people in our prisons, and they should stay on top of any identified mental health conditions in order to best support offenders in their rehabilitation, so that they can make the most of deradicalisation programmes and rejoin society without any mental health illnesses blocking their way. That way, we can ensure that we have covered all the bases, that we are providing what should be basic necessities, such as mental health treatment, and that we are helping people on their way to becoming citizens who can contribute positively to society.

I recognise that mental health services in this country need much more resources, and they are often inadequate for people in the general population. That is another task for the Government: to establish high-quality mental health services for all. The new clause could take the pressure off community health services in the longer term by ensuring that people convicted of terrorist charges are as healthy as they can be when they return to society. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Let me again thank the shadow Minister for raising a very important point. We know mental health can often contribute to, or perhaps even cause, significant portions of offending, including some elements of terrorist offending—not all terrorist offending, but certainly some. It is certainly an important area that we need to be very conscious of.

It is already a fundamental aspect of the health and justice system that we have processes in place to identify, assess and then treat offenders with a wide range of mental health needs, both in custody and throughout the criminal justice process. The intervention that the shadow Minister calls for is already inherent in the way the system operates. The NHS long-term plan already stipulates that all prisoners, not just terrorist prisoners, receive an early reception screening and an assessment within the first 24 hours of entry into the prison system, followed by a second screening within seven days. Decisions about whether to provide mental health treatment are made on the basis of identified clinical need. The mental health teams that work in this area have clear clinical pathways describing such referrals. Prisoners in custody, but also those out on licence, are monitored for mental health issues. Where mental health problems are identified, they are referred and treated, including if there is a change in their condition—a deterioration, as the new clause describes it.

Regarding the capacity to provide treatment, I am sure that as constituency MPs we are all aware of the importance of building mental health treatment capacity. I was pleased that over the past year or two, recent announcements in relation to NHS funding have included a lot more funding for mental health treatment facilities in the NHS, which will treat prisoners as much as they will treat people who are not in custody. The spirit of the new clause is an entirely reasonable one, but it is already inherent in how the system operates that people are medically screened and monitored, with appropriate treatment following, as it should. I acknowledge the importance of identifying and treating mental health conditions in all offender cohorts, including terrorist offenders.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful to the Minister for his helpful response, but if mental health services in prisons reflect mental health services in wider society, I am worried, because we know how inadequate mental health services across our country currently are. That is something to which the Government need to give extra attention. The Minister has talked about extra investment in mental health, which is welcome; however, even though I will withdraw the new clause, I suggest that at some time in the future he comes to the House and talks about some of the issues around mental health in prisons, so we can gain a greater understanding of what is and is not happening. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.