Time To Reform
Mental Health Legislation
Sarah Reed, a 32-year-old black woman, mother, daughter and aunt died in deeply suspicious circumstances in London’s Holloway Prison on 11th January 2016. As a black woman, Sarah Reed faced institutionalised racism, sexism and mental health stigma, this intersectionality, doubled down the horrendous discrimination she faced.
Sarah left behind one surviving daughter, and her mother and brother and extended family members. Sarah suffered mental ill health after the tragic death of her first-born baby after a period of illness.
Sarah and her partner were dispatched in a taxi from hospital, with her deceased baby wrapped in a blanket, told to go and find an undertaker. It was this tragic loss of her baby daughter, the unbelievably callous action of the hospital, police racism and brutality that sent her into a descending spiral of mental ill health.
Sarah was to later suffer a brutal assault by Metropolitan Police Service Police Constable James Kiddie who was subsequently charged and found guilty of assaulting Sarah and was eventually sacked.
Sarah then spent time in and out of hospital suffering as a result of the police assault. Whilst in hospital Sarah alleges she was a victim of a sexual assault by a member of the hospital staff. The Metropolitan Police were called and bizarrely she was arrested, not the offender and taken to Brixton Police station.
What then transpired was long periods of police and prison detention without Sarah being given her prescribed medications. At the time of her death in prison, Sarah had not been given her prescribed medication for some time, despite it being known that she suffered from a recognised mental condition. It’s reported that Prison staff were punishing Sarah behavior instead of treating her obvious condition.
As a result the new social movement Blaksox at the request of the family, established Justice 4 Sarah Reed Campaign to highlight the acute failures of the all those many institutions, who came into contact with Sarah. Organisations, such as the Metropolitan Police, Maudsley Hospital, Holloway Women’s Prison, Highpoint House Memorial Hospital, and the now closed Richard House Children’s Hospice run by Newham Health Authority.
We believe that no mentally ill person should be kept in a police or prison cell. Current mental health law deems police and prison cells as ‘places of safety’ for those suffering mental ill health.
We welcome the new guidelines issues to the police on the handling suspects suffering mental ill health, however we say that there are few if any circumstances in which the lengthy detention of those with mental ill health in police or prison custody is neither humane nor justified.
The Justice 4 Sarah Reed Campaign believes that both police stations and prisons should be removed from UK mental health legislation as appropriate an ‘place of safety’.
The Mental Health Act 1983 (“the 1983 Act”) provides for the statutory detention of people suffering from mental ill health, without their consent for the stated purpose of public safety health assessment, care and treatment.
The powers conferred on the Police to remove people if they are in private property (under Section 135) and in a public place (under Section 136), and appear to be suffering from a mental disorder, allow them to be taken to a ‘place of safety’ (for example, a hospital, a care home or a police station), to enable a mental health assessment to be carried out and to make appropriate arrangements for ongoing care if this is deemed necessary.
However neither police stations nor most prisons are adequately trained or geared up to manage and treat with care and compassion, those suffering mental health crises. Sarah case exemplifies the acute failures of the criminal justice system in treating those with mental ill health.
Reform of Section 135 and Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983
In 2014 a joint Review of Section 135 and Section 136 by the Department of Health and Home Office, included recommendations for changes to improve the experiences of those suffering from mental health crisis.
The Government has also committed up to £15 million to improve the provision of community and health based places of safety in 2016 - 2017, and further to reduce the use of police cells.
However, we say that these changes do not go far enough and that Police stations and prisons must be removed as lawfully designated ‘places of safety’.
Mental health measures in the Governments proposed Police and Crime Bill are currently being discussed in parliament.
Whilst we welcome currently proposed parliamentary changes to legislation, however we believe that much more needs to be done.
The current facts are that Police station cells are still being used far too regularly to detain those suffering mental health crisis, although there was a slight reduction from 6, 667 in 2013/14 to 4, 537 in 2014/15.
There is emerging cross party consensus that no one, suffering mental ill health, under the age of 18, should be taken to a police cell. However we remain concerned that an acute shortage of beds in secure mental health hospitals will mean that maintaining current reductions will be increasingly difficulty and that as a result further reductions will be difficult to achieve.
There also widespread concerns about the length of time for which people can be detained, and it is proposed in the new legislation that legal detention is to reduced from 72 hours to 24 hours.
This is Bill makes provision for the collaboration of emergency services and seeks to amend the existing powers of Police under the Mental Health Act 1983.
We support Mind’s proposed amendments to detention arrangement relating to both Section 135 and Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
- Use of police stations being removed for those under 18, and used only in exceptional circumstances in the case of adults
- The adoption of a wider definition of “places of safety” to include the third sector (even if only on a temporary basis), to extend local capacity to meet local need
- That the police can act promptly without a need for a warrant to protect property and individuals from harm when they are in a public place, but a warrant would still be required for access to private dwellings
- To reduce the maximum period for which a person can be detained (as mentioned above) from 72 hours to 24 hours (with an extension to 36 hours exceptionally)
- Before detaining a person under section 136 the police should consult (where practicable) a health professional.,
- If appropriate, mental health assessments should take place in a private home
- If Police Officers have reasonable grounds for believing that a person has a dangerous item concealed on them and presents a danger to themselves and others then the police officers can search that person.
Why this reform needs to happen.
We believe that police cells should never be used as a place of safety and would support Baroness Walmsley’s Lords amendment to clause 79 of the Policing and Crime Bill that is now at Committee Stage in the House of Lords.
In 2015 - 2016 in England and Wales, 28,271 adults were picked up by police in mental health crisis.
Most were taken to a health-based place of safety, 2,100 were held in police cells for mental health assessment because there was no more suitable place of safety available.
There has been a huge reduction in these numbers amounting to 53.7 % reduction in 2014 - 2015 whilst this is very much welcomed, much more needs to be done.
Sarah Reed’s recorded medical failures in Holloway Prison and prisoner officer abuse in a series of telephone calls, and in letters to her Mum,
“Mum, I shouldn’t be here. I have not been given my medication…”
The Committee stage of this Bill in the House of Lords will be on 26th October 2016.
Join the Justice 4 Sarah Reed Campaign. Lobby Parliament.
We would urge you to:
1. Lobby your Members of Parliament and the House of Lords to support Minds proposed amendment.
2. Join the Justice 4 Sarah Reed Campaign and its supporters in demanding effecting change and justice for Sarah Reed’s daughter and her family, and for the many families of other individuals who have either died in police custody or in a prison.