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WILTSHIRE constabulary and the region’s mental health service have welcomed a pioneering scheme to cut reoffending by deploying psychiatric nurses and social workers to police stations in Swindon.

The £25 million pilot programme will be trialled across Swindon as well as ten other areas in the England after it emerged police officers spent between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of their time dealing with suspects with mental health issues.

The nurses and social workers’ duties will include helping officers to respond to calls and identify offenders with mental health problems, learning disabilities and other impairments.

This will allow staff to immediately offer suspects the treatment and support they require.

Being able to diagnose criminals at an early stage could affect the way in which they are dealt with by the justice system, ministers unveiling the scheme said.

The venture was warmly backed by Wiltshire Police as well as the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, whose staff will be based in police custody suites as well as criminal courts.

“We are delighted to be able to offer this service to ensure people coming into the criminal justice system with mental health illnesses, learning disabilities and substance misuse problems get the treatment and support they need as early as possible,” said AWP’s Courts Assessment Referral Service team leader Richard Evans.

“By giving treatment sooner, the hope is we will also be able to reduce the likelihood of re-offending.”

Many people in prison have a mental health problem, a substance misuse problem or a learning disability, according to the Department of Health, with one in four suffering from a severe illness such as depression or psychosis.

But too often criminals with mental health problems are being diagnosed only once they have reached jail.

Over the past six weeks, Mr Evans, who has run a similar scheme in criminal courts for offenders suffering from mental health problems in the region, has trained Wiltshire Police custody staff, introducing them to the team’s work, along with CARS practitioner Kristina Rees.

A police spokesman said the scheme would prevent reoffending in cases and free up resources.

“Wiltshire Police strives to work with specialist partnership agencies where appropriate to enhance the systems already in place,” he said.

“Working with specially-trained mental health professionals from the point of arrest will enable earlier identification of those in need of mental health assessment or referral and reduce the risk of reoffending, which would only go to benefit the local community and free up police resources.”

If successful the programme could be extended to the rest of England by 2017.