The Prison Reform Trust

CFMH supported The Prison Reform Trust in developing and updating their on-line resources for justice providers and users of the service, thus enhancing the knowledge in mental health and learning disabilities in the criminal courts.


An amount of £5000 from the High Sheriff's (2015) chosen charity Concern for Mental Health, contributed to the excellent work of the Prison Reform Trust in developing resource material. The section on achieving effective communication in court and creating a new section on autism was a valuable addition. Speakers were also sponsored.


The online resource, Mental health, autism & learning disabilities in the criminal courts, can be accessed at: www.mhldcc.org.uk

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Members of the Working for Justice Group (offenders with learning issues) need particular support. The speakers this year covered topics like awareness/training in learning disability, autism and mental health, supporting effective communication in court, information about liaison and diversion services and how members of the judiciary can engage with and benefit from these services, and recognizing when reasonable adjustments in the courts might be necessary and how these can be implemented. This, in turn, has helped to ensure that some of our most vulnerable court users are dealt with appropriately and fairly.

In 2009, Lord Bradley's review into people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system recommended awareness training for criminal justice staff and members of the judiciary.

Together with Rethink Mental Illness, and in collaboration with the Magistrates' Association, the Justices' Clerks' Society and the Judicial College, The Prison Reform Trust developed an online resource for magistrates, district judges and court staff, which was launched in 2013. The resource, which is well used with an average 500 unique users/month, stimulated demand for awareness training for local branches of the Magistrates' Association and annual training for District Judges; The Prison Reform Trust supported these events by providing speakers.

Feedback from Users of the Resource Book

One magistrate said:

“Useful is a word that completely undersells this presentation. Jenny is really an expert in her field, with a gift of engaging with and explaining to us the key issues and sensitivity to the needs of others.”

The value of hearing from individuals with particular support needs and direct experience of the criminal courts is especially significant. One magistrate said:

“Waine highlighted problems encountered [in court] and how these could have been overcome. His input was particularly useful.”

Two magistrates said:

“I now know there are things that I can do in court that can make a difference for people who might be struggling to understand; and that makes me feel more confident.”

“I didn't know about intermediaries or that we, as magistrates, can ask for additional support.”

One district judge explained how she had changed the way in which she spoke to defendants who appeared vulnerable and, in particular, how she had checked that a particular defendant had understood what was happening in court, and the implication of the sentencing decision.