Why are so many mentally ill children held in prison?

Mental Health - Girl in distress by: Sarah Wollaston | Comment is Free
published: 28 November 2013

Jeremy Hunt is right to advocate the importance of work experience for politicians as well as managers in the NHS; the health secretary really should try a night in the cells. It would utterly convince him of the need to end the practice of using cells to detain mentally ill children and adults who are waiting for a psychiatric assessment.

Is it conceivable that a 13-year-old child with a suspected broken leg would be held in a police cell if there was no orthopaedic surgeon ready to assess them? Yet on 25 occasions since the start of this year that is, in effect, what has happened to children felt to have an acute mental disorder, in Devon and Cornwall. On three occasions those children were aged 12 or 13. Custody suites are scary places, especially at night and unacceptably so for an acutely distressed child.

It is not the fault of the police, who go to great lengths to try to arrange for psychiatric assessments to take place in an appropriate place of safety, after they have used their powers under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

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