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Criminals suffering from mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction will be diverted away from prison and into compulsory treatment under a government pilot.

The Ministry of Justice aims to reduce reoffending by replacing “ineffective” short prison sentences with programmes that “will tackle the root causes of criminality”.

A judge said the scheme could help “nip in the bud” some of the major causes of crime, as statistics show significant proportions of offenders have mental health problems, or are affected by drug and alcohol addictions.

David Gauke, the justice secretary, has been pushing against the use of short prison sentences amid a crisis driving drug abuse and record self-harm and violence in overcrowded jails.

“We are all clear that we need to do more to support vulnerable offenders in the community,” he is to say while announcing the programme in Northampton.

“I want to improve confidence in community sentences, and early evidence from these sites has shown that treatment requirements can have a significant impact in improving rehabilitation and addressing the underlying causes of offending.

“We need to do more to raise awareness and increase confidence in treatment requirements and I look forward to exploring how these sites progress.”

Plans drawn up with the NHS, Public Health England and Department of Health are being tested in five areas before the government hopes to roll them out nationwide.

They see psychologists stationed in courts to assess offenders whose crime makes them eligible for a community order, while local panels of judicial and health officials will liaise with magistrates and judges.

The Ministry of Justice said that 29 per cent of offenders currently starting community sentences say they have mental health problems, a third misuse drugs and 38 per cent misuse alcohol. Read more

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