MENTAL health nurses are to be posted in police stations and courts in a bid to reduce re-offending by mentally ill criminals.

The £25m pilot scheme, which is to be tested in 10 areas across England, will mean that people with mental health problems are treated as early as possible, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said.

Identifying people with mental health needs who come into contact with the criminal justice system at the earliest possible stage will help to divert them from offending, Mr Lamb said.

He said that too often criminals with mental health problems, learning difficulties or substance misuse issues are only diagnosed once they reach prison.

The majority of people who end up in prison have a mental health problem, a substance misuse problem or a learning disability.

And one in four has a severe mental health illness such as depression or psychosis, a Department Of Health spokeswoman said.

Over the next year, the money will be used to join up police and courts systems with mental health services in Avon and Wiltshire, Merseyside, London, Leicester, Sussex, Dorset, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, Coventry, south Essex and Wakefield.

Mentally ill people, as well as those with substance abuse problems and learning disabilities, will be assessed when they come into contact with police. The information will be shared with officers and the courts to ensure charging decisions take into consideration a person’s health needs, the spokeswoman said.

It will also mean treatment is given sooner, which will help stop re-offending.

If the pilot is successful, it will be rolled out across the rest of the country by 2017.

Mr Lamb said: “We want to help them get treatment as early as possible. “Diverting the individual away from offending and helping to reduce the risk of victims suffering due to offences benefits everyone.

“That’s why we are investing £25m for liaison and diversion services at police services and courts. These will help identify when someone in a police station or involved in court proceedings has mental health problems.

“They can then be referred to the right mental health services and are given the help and support they need.”

Policing Minister Damian Green said: “Police officers should be focused on fighting crimes and people with mental health conditions should get the care they need as early as possible.

“These pilots will not only ensure that happens but will help drive down re-offending by individuals who, with treatment, can recover fully.”

The move follows a scheme which sees nurses on patrol alongside police officers in a bid to improve responses to mental health emergencies.

The pilot mimics schemes established in Leicestershire and Cleveland, which have shown that having nurses on hand can help to reduce the number of mentally ill people taken into custody and reduce demands on police time.