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Police cells to be banned from being 'places of safety' for under 18s

Home Office announces adults suffering a mental health crisis will now only be taken to custody suites in 'exceptional circumstances'

Police cells will be banned from being used as “places of safety” for under-18s and will only be permitted to be used for adults suffering a mental health crisis in "exceptional circumstances" under new legislation being brought forward by the Home Office.

The maximum duration of detention for the purposes of an assessment under the Mental Health Act will be reduced from 72 to 24 hours, and police officers will be obliged to consult with a health professional before detaining anyone under the Act.

The legislation will also clarify that assessments under the Act can take place in a private dwelling – a matter that has been subject to contention in the past. 

The move follows a review of mental health detention legislation.

There is evidence health services are already shouldering more of the work in this area after an outcry over the issue of police resources being diverted to deal with people with mental health issues.

For example, formal hospital detentions under the Act seem to be increasing, while police use of the Act is falling in many areas.

However, despite this promising trend, some insiders have expressed concern that a promised £15 million from the Department of Health to increase the provision of health-based places of safety in England is still too little. 

Home Office minister Karen Bradley said: “These measures will ensure a police cell is truly a place of last resort for vulnerable people experiencing mental health crises.”

Inspector Michael Brown, the self-styled Mental Health Cop who leads on this area for the College of Policing, said: “We would look forward to hearing more detail on the definition of exceptional circumstances when it comes to keeping someone in mental health crisis in custody.”

However, Insp Brown agreed police custody was the wrong place for someone who was unwell if no crime had been committed and said the College supported any measure to reduce the use of cells as places of safety.

A person can be detained under the Mental Health Act if it is thought they may constitute a danger to themselves or others.