A pilot scheme in Northamptonshire is helping to divert women offenders with low-level mental health problems away from jail by providing treatment instead.
The programme is backed by the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England with the aim of increasing the use of community sentences for mental health, drug and alcohol treatment requirements.
Northamptonshire is one of five test areas to create a health programme supporting people whose offending can be tackled by treatment - rather than a short prison sentence.
National figures also show that around 70 per cent of prisoners and 40 per cent of people on probation have a mental health issue
Dr Sunil Lad, principal counselling psychologist at Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and clinical lead for the project, said: “This has been an exciting project to be part of. We have been helping women who are in contact with the criminal justice system having experienced adverse life events resulting in developing unhelpful ways of coping.
"We are able to better understand how they come into these difficulties and have introduced them to different ways of coping.
The Mental Health Treatment Requirement option has been available to magistrates and judges as one of 13 community sentencing options for some time but has rarely been used.
The Northamptonshire testbed has seen agencies work together to establish a programme that supports magistrates and judges to identifying appropriate offenders for treatment.
So far, 79 women in Northamptonshire have been assessed to see if they are suitable for the programme and 50 have been sentenced to it. The first 11 have completed the sentence.
Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Mold and his office helped pull the pilot scheme together.
He said: “This programme aims to break the cycle of reoffending by providing effective treatment to tackle the problems that are leading a woman into crime.
"Short-term prison sentences do nothing to deal with the root causes of crime and I believe that where people have particular problems such as mental illness, we should not only seek justice but support them to turn their lives around too.”
The sentence also means that the women will, alongside support for her mental health needs, will receive dedicated social, practical and emotional support from the local women’s centre.
If successful, the pilot could be extended to all suitable adults.