Raising magistrates’ awareness of dual diagnosis and community sentencing options
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

Raising magistrates’ awareness of dual diagnosis and community sentencing options

Ruby Ramsden Senior Assistant Psychologist, Change Grow Live, Northampton, England
Mignon French Magistrate, Magistrates Association Vulnerabilities in Court Group, Northampton, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To improve your understanding of the health risks to which offenders with a dual diagnosis are exposed

  • To enhance your awareness of rehabilitative community sentencing options as an alternative to custodial sentences for vulnerable offenders

  • To recognise the importance of ensuring professionals in the judiciary are aware of the challenges and vulnerabilities experienced by people with a dual diagnosis

Many people who serve custodial sentences in the UK have a dual diagnosis – that is, mental health issues combined with problematic alcohol or substance use. As an alternative to custodial sentences, magistrates can issue community orders and make these conditional to requirements such as mental health treatment, drug rehabilitation and alcohol treatment. However, since their introduction in 2005, the uptake of these community sentencing options has been low.

In Northamptonshire, England, Substance to Solution, the regional branch of the charity Change Grow Live, delivers mental health treatment in the community to male offenders with a dual diagnosis. In parallel, a magistrate-led vulnerable-person focus group has developed training to increase magistrates’ awareness of the potential mental health needs of offenders and of community sentencing alternatives.

This article discusses the need for magistrates to consider the complex psychological and social needs of offenders with a dual diagnosis in their sentencing decisions. It describes the initiative in Northamptonshire as an example of how to provide treatment in the community for male offenders with a dual diagnosis and how to deliver mental health awareness training for magistrates. It is hoped that this will reduce the number of vulnerable people being given custodial sentences when there are rehabilitative community sentencing options available.

Mental Health Practice. doi: 10.7748/mhp.2020.e1458

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and has been checked for plagiarism using automated software



Conflict of interest

None declared

Ramsden R, French M (2020) Raising magistrates’ awareness of dual diagnosis and community sentencing options. Mental Health Practice. doi: 10.7748/mhp.2020.e1458

Published online: 21 April 2020

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