Policing and mental health - Home Affairs Contents

3  Detention of children under s. 136

31. In 2013-14, a total of 753 children were detained under section 136. Of these, 236 were detained in a police cell.[61] This represents a reduction in absolute terms on the previous year, 2012-13, when 263 children were detained in cells.[62] However, a child under 18 detained under s. 136 is statistically more likely than an adult to end up in a police station.[63] The table below shows the five forces with the highest number of children detained in police cells in 2013-14.[64]
Children detained under s136 and held in a police cell
Police force
Devon and Cornwall 30
North Yorkshire20

32. There is a consensus that children should not be held in police cells under s. 136. Children are more vulnerable than adults, and they present mental health illness differently than adults. Half of the people who have lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14, and three-quarters before their mid-20s.[65] Young people who come into contact with the youth justice system have higher rates of mental disorders, including self-harm and suicidal behaviours, than those who do not.[66] A recent Health Committee report into Children's and adolescents mental health and CAMHS said that it would be "unthinkable" for children experiencing a crisis in their physical health to be held in a police cell because of a lack of an appropriate hospital bed, and it should be regarded as a "never event" for those in mental health crisis.[67] The Government review of sections 135 and 136 said that the legislation would be amended so that under-18s would never be taken to a police cell under s. 136. Norman Lamb told us that the detention of children in police cells was unacceptable and that he, alongside the Minister for Policing, would be writing to "every area of the country" to make it "clear that the practice should end now."[68]

Exclusion due to age

33. The CQC's map of places of safety found that 56 (35%) of the 161 health-based places of safety do not accept young people under the age of 16,[69] and 16% do not accept those aged 16 and 17. For example, there are no health-based places of safety that accept someone under the age of 16 within Avon.[70] As with provision for adults, what facilities do exist often have space for only one person. If it is occupied, then the police have to look elsewhere, and this is compounded when the nearest health-based place of safety, designated for adults, refuses to take the child because they consider their facilities to be inappropriate. We were told of numerous examples of the police spending hours trying to locate somewhere other than a police cell.[71] The Royal College of Psychiatrists has made it clear that children should not be excluded from a health-based place of safety because it does not have a separate assessment space for under-18s. The Code of Practice states that a child can be detained in a place of safety not specifically designated for under-18s, "if this is assessed to be a suitable environment for the child or young person at that time, given the particular circumstances."[72]

34. The fact that children are still detained in police cells under section 136 reflects a clear failure of commissioning by NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups. The de facto use of police cells as an alternative relieves the pressure on CCGs to commission appropriate levels of provision for children experiencing mental-health crisis. We support the Government's proposals for a change in the law to ensure that children can never be held in a police cell under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which we recommend should be included in the next Queen's Speech. In the interim, guidance on the detention of children in police cells under s. 136 must be made clear—that it is unacceptable and must stop. This guidance needs to be distributed to those working in the police and in the health service.

35. The fact that a place of safety is attached to an adult ward should not preclude its use for children, particularly when the alternative is a prison cell. The Mental Health Act Code of Practice is clear on this point, and we recommend that the Department of Health draw this to the attention of all providers of health-based places of safety.

61   Health and Social Care Information Centre, Inpatients formally detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983, and patients subject to supervised community treatment: Annual report, England, 2013/14, October 2014; Howard League for Penal Reform (PMH0050) Back

62   Royal College of Psychiatrists (PMH0038), para 8.10 Back

63   Care Quality Commission. A safer place to be, October 2014, page 22 Back

64   Health and Social Care Information Centre, Inpatients formally detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983, and patients subject to supervised community treatment: Annual report, England, 2013/14, October 2014 Back

65   NHS England (PMH0055) Back

66   Royal College of Psychiatrists (PMH0038)  Back

67   Health Committee, Third Report of Session 2014-15, Children's and adolescents' mental health and CAMHS, HC 342 Back

68   Q 289 Back

69   Care Quality Commission data on the number of places of safety in each local authority, their opening hours, capacity, and age restrictions is on the Care Quality Commission website. Back

70   Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Police and Crime Commissioner (PMH0032)  Back

71   See, for example, Q 248 Back

72   Royal College of Psychiatrists Supplementary (PMH0058), para 2.2 Back

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Prepared 6 February 2015