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Police cells should not be used for people in mental health crisis, charity urges

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said the government and the Welsh Assembly should ban the use of police cells as places of safety for people in mental health crisis.
mental health crisis

Charity Mind has called for an end to the damaging practice of people in mental health crisis being placed in police cells.

It was responding to figures which show huge variation in how often different police forces in England and Wales use powers under the Mental Health Act to take vulnerable people to cells during the last year.

The Merseyside and Hertfordshire police force areas did not detain people in crisis in cells as a place of safety on a single occasion in 2015/16.

But the West Yorkshire police force area saw people detained 269 times in the same period, the highest figure recorded according to

Charity Mind has called for an end to the ‘damaging practice’ of people in mental health crisis being placed in police cells.

It was responding to figures which show huge variation in how often different police forces in England and Wales use powers under the Mental Health Act to take vulnerable people to cells during the last year.

mental health crisis
Charity Mind has called for a ban on use of police cells for people
with mental health problems. Picture: PA wire

The Merseyside and Hertfordshire police force areas did not detain people in crisis in cells as a place of safety on a single occasion in 2015/16.

But the West Yorkshire police force area saw people detained 269 times in the same period, the highest figure recorded according to data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for mental health.

This was followed by Avon and Somerset (242), South Wales (192) and Lincolnshire (173). 

Bill through Lords

The Policing and Crime Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords, will mean police cells can no longer be used as places of safety for under-18s who are suicidal, self-harming or in psychosis.

Mind called on the government and the Welsh Assembly to extend this to adults and its chief executive Paul Farmer said it was inappropriate to detain anyone in crisis in a cell.

He added: ‘In many parts of the country, police forces are showing us what is possible. 

‘If Merseyside and Hertfordshire police forces can entirely avoid detaining vulnerable people in police cells, so can the rest of England and Wales.’

Police custody safety

Mr Farmer said vulnerable people’s behaviour can be perceived as aggressive by police officers and that health-based places of safety are far better. 

RCN head of nursing practice Wendy Preston agreed that police custody is not suitable as a place of safety. 

She added: ‘The drop in mental health nurses has left services without the capacity to care for everyone who needs support, and patients are spilling out into other public services.’


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