Derbyshire is to be one of 10 areas nationally where mental health nurses will be posted in police stations in a bid to reduce reoffending rates among criminals.
The £25million pilot scheme, which will also be rolled out in Middlesbrough, London, Merseyside among others, will mean that people with mental health problems are treated “as early as possible”, care and support minister Norman Lamb has 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 away from offending again, 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 statistics show that one in four has a severe mental health illness such as depression or psychosis, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
Over thenext 12 months, the money will be used to join up police and courts systems with mental health services in their respective areas.
Mr Lamb said: “We want to help them get the right support and treatment as early as possible.
“Diverting the individual away from offending and helping to reduce the risk of more victims suffering due to further offences benefits everyone.
“That’s why we are investing £25million for liaison and diversion services at police services and courts across the country.
“These will help identify when someone in a police station or involved in court proceedings who has mental health problems are referred to the right mental health services and are given the help and support they need.”
The pilot mimics a scheme already established in Cleveland, Teesside, which have shown that having nurses on hand can help to reduce the number of mentally ill people taken into custody and reduces demands on police time.
It has been estimated that police officers spend between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of their time dealing with mental health problems - the equivalent of around 26,000 officers.
Other areas targeted in the pilot are North Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall, Sussex, Sunderland, West Yorkshire, the West Midlands, Thames Valley as well as British Transport Police.
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 system to ensure charging and sentencing decisions take into consideration a person’s health needs.
If the pilot is successful, the measure will be rolled out across the rest of the country by 2017.
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 in the longer term will help drive down reoffending by individuals who, with the right kind of treatment, can recover fully.”