In late 2017, a new pilot scheme was launched in five areas across England, which allowed vulnerable offenders with mental health, drug or alcohol problems to avoid jail sentences by agreeing to participate in treatment for their problems.
Across Birmingham, Plymouth, Sefton, Milton Keynes and Northampton, panels consisting of medical professionals, psychologists and justice officials have been using their combined expertise to help judges and magistrates to decide whether mandatory treatment could be more effective at reducing re-offending than prison. Since the introduction of the scheme, over 400 of the new Community Sentence Treatment Requirements (CSTRs) have been issued across the pilot areas.
As the pilot scheme has been running for less than a year so far, it is impossible to judge whether it will have long-term effects in rehabilitating the vulnerable offenders and reducing re-offending rates. However, studies conducted by the Ministry of Justice in 2017 point towards the possible success of this approach, as they suggest that vulnerable offenders who receive treatment for their mental health problems are less likely to re-offend than those who are not offered treatment. For example, among those who had been convicted of a crime within the last two years, and had since received treatment for their alcohol addition, there was a 59% fall in the number of crimes they committed in the next two years. This is a very significant drop, considering that the average reoffending rate for those who have been through short-term prison sentences is a very high 64.9%.
This dramatic fall in re-offending suggests that, for many offenders, their mental health and substance abuse problems represent the cause of their offending. Although people with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime, mental illness can make it difficult for some people to behave according to societal expectations, and can increase a person’s likelihood of being unemployed or homeless, which are risk factors for crime. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, mental illness and substance misuse are often related, as people may use drugs and alcohol to cope with their conditions.
Therefore, this progressive new pilot scheme could be beneficial in helping vulnerable offenders to break the pattern of re-offending, by addressing the root of their problems and ensuring that they can recover from addiction and mental illness.
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