MENTAL health nurses are to be posted in North-East police stations and courts in a bid to reduce re-offending by mentally ill criminals.
The move is part of a £25m pilot scheme, which is to be tested in ten areas across England, including Middlesbrough and Sunderland.
It followed a successful joint bid for funding by the Tees, Esk, Wear Valleys NHS Trust and the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust.
Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb, said the scheme will mean that people with mental health problems are treated as early as possible.
“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 one in four has a severe mental health illness.
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.
It will also mean treatment is given sooner which will help stop reoffending, she added.
Street triage teams of mental health nurses are also being tested in North Yorkshire and a number of other police forces.
As well as supporting police on patrol, the mental health nurses also assist officers when they are responding to emergency calls and give advice to staff.
The pilot mimics a successful scheme, operating in Cleveland, which led to a sharp reduction in the number of people detained under mental health legislation.
Barry Coppinger, police and crime commissioner for Cleveland, said: “I welcome the announcement of increased funding to the area. We have an excellent track record in Cleveland of supporting those with diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health issues who come into police contact.
“The Street Triage scheme alongside Tees and Esk Wear Valley NHS Trust in Cleveland has been heralded nationally as best practice.
"Cleveland has also gone one step further with an officer seconded to the Forensic Mental Health service to provide knowledge and partnership working.”