A Peterborough judge has said locking up defendants with treatable mental health conditions for lengthy sentences will be viewed as ‘barbaric’ in the future as he imposed no sentence on a homeless woman for breaching a court order.
Petra Matthews (46) was found guilty of breaching her Criminal Behaviour Order at Peterborough Crown Court following a trial on Friday - but rather than follow sentencing guidelines and send her to prison, Judge Sean Enright called for more to be done to help defendants with mental health conditions.
Today mental health charity MIND has backed the Judge Enright’s call.
Jude Enright said: “The guidance I am asked to apply suggests a term of imprisonment. It is unjust to apply the guidance.
“Why? CBOs were created to deal with anti social behaviour, not as a mechanism for locking up people with minor, treatable mental health conditions.
“This is what has happened to this defendant, and other defendants like her - clogging up the justice system and our resources, which are very scarce.”
He said ‘There will come a time when we look back at this episode and view it as barbaric,’ and added: “Society must develop strategies for dealing with people with mental health difficulties that do not involve locking them up for long periods of time.”
Alison Cobb, Specialist Policy Advisor at Mind, said: “We welcome this court decision and the acknowledgement that the system isn’t working for people with multiple needs, including mental health problems.
“The healthcare and criminal justice systems need to be flexible enough to accommodate the complexities of people’s needs and work together, with them, to find lasting solutions that work for them and the community.
“It’s really important that anyone struggling with mental health problems is dealt with sensitively, compassionately and with dignity and respect, rather than being criminalised.”
A Cambridgeshire police spokeswoman said: “If an officer suspects, or is made aware, that a person has any mental health related issues, then they must be treated as such. Often we take people into custody as a place of safety, and a last resort until an approved mental health professional and a registered medical practitioner can assist.”
Dr Chess Denman, Medical Director of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services in the area, said: “We have a range of specialist teams at our Trust which help divert people out of the criminal justice system into mental health care, and we work closely with colleagues from the local authorities, public health and the third sector to provide the best possible help to those who may struggle to access more routine services.”
Matthews, from Cambridge, breached the order by camping outside Parkside Police Station. The two year order expires later this month.