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Mental health issues and custody

One of the most common ways in which individuals with a mental disorder have contact with the police is when they are in a public place and are believed to be in need of 'immediate care and control'. In these circumstances individuals can be detained by police officers under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and taken to a place of safety. A place of safety is defined as 'hospital, police station, mental nursing home or residential home or any other suitable place'.

People with mental ill health may require additional support when they are arrested and come into police custody. Therefore, whenever a custody officer considers or has been told in good faith that a suspect may be mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable, they must request an appropriate adult to be present. A medical examination will also be required. See related Partner Agencies supporting the Custody process - AMHP article.

The custody officer will agree with partner agencies an exit and aftercare plan for mentally vulnerable people on release from custody. This should include, as appropriate, an assessment of a particular individual's vulnerability and potential mental health or social care needs and referral to appropriate services.

However, it has long been accepted that police custody is not a suitable place of safety. It has the effect of criminalising people who are in need of medical attention, can increase anxiety and their mental state.  For the past twenty years it has been government policy that police custody should only be used as a last resort.