Criminal Justice Mental Health Service at Lewisham Police Family Open Day

On the 24 June, between 10am and 3pm, Lewisham Police station (the second largest Police station in Europe) opened its doors to the public for their annual Family Open Day. This year, the Criminal Justice Mental Health Service (CJMHS), SLaM's Liaison and Diversion service was invited to participate. The CJMHS Team Leader, Carl Hellawell, represented the service on the day.


Attractions included: a tour of the Police stables, Specialist and Historic Police vehicles on display and several stalls representing different parts of the Police Force including British Transport Police, Marine Units, Police Dog handlers and their LGBT liaison division. Also included was the very popular Tour of the Police Cells within Custody and this is where CJMHS based themselves for the day.


Previous years have seen around 3000 members of the public attend the day and this year was just as busy with hundreds of people being given a tour of custody in small groups of a dozen or so. Such was the demand for the custody tour that we also hosted tours around custody (thankful that the 6 years working in custody had resulted in a pretty good working knowledge of custody processes).


The tour gave a brief insight into the journey a person under arrest may experience, from the booking in processes, to the taking of samples and prints, through to interview and charging decisions, including a peek inside the Virtual Court room within custody that enables some Court cases to be heard by Bromley Magistrates Court over videolink.


People of all ages attended and there was plenty of good humour and levity on display. The main attraction of Custody for most was to experience being locked in a cell with this providing them an opportunity for a photo.


However there was also an opportunity to dispel some myths around being arrested and to also promote the role of custody staff who look after the detainees whilst under the care, (rather than judge whether they were guilty or not of any alleged offence as this is a matter for those investigating the offence). During the tour we talked of the health and welfare of a detainee and the support on hand to address a persons physical health, mental health/vulnerability and substance misuse needs.


Many people who come into custody are vulnerable and find it difficult to cope in a cell. They can respond to this in many ways by expressing anger and aggression or internalising this and harming themselves.


It is the role of our Liaison and Diversion team to support custody staff by offering those suspected of being vulnerable a screening assessment where we can identify their needs, level of risk and urgency and make necessary referrals, give advice or develop crisis/safety plans with the person and Police to ensure they keep safe. For those who are known to local MH services we will liaise with the care team and provide feedback on our assessments so follow up plans can be made. For those who appear acutely unwell we will facilitate Mental Health Act assessments in custody.


An important role of Liaison and Diversion is to identify needs and risks as early as possible in the Criminal Justice pathway so that when a person goes to Court and/or is remanded to prison, we are in a position to share information on needs and risks swiftly. This can reduce the need for a criminal matter to be delayed with a Magistrate having information about the defendants’ vulnerability at their first court appearance so a case can be dealt with, rather than adjourned. Our information also promotes continuity in the management of risk and facilitates swift referrals to Prison Healthcare services.


The Criminal Justice Mental Health Service currently has a 7 day service at Lewisham, Brixton, Walworth Road and Croydon police custody suites and a service at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court on Tuesdays and a service at Croydon Magistrates Court on Wednesdays.


We will soon be advertising vacancies via NHS Jobs. If you wish to learn more about the service, you can email

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