Following a three year campaign led by the WI in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust, the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke have announced plans for setting up a national service for the diversion of the mentally ill from the justice system into treatment and care.

The two cabinet ministers committed funding for 100 "diversion sites" across England and Wales at a reception in Westminster yesterday hosted by the WI and the Prison Reform Trust.

The announcement forms part of the government’s commitment, made in the Ministry of Justice’s green paper, Breaking the Cycle, for the roll out of a full national liaison and diversion service by 2014.

A prison service survey published in November revealed that 12% of prisoners had a mental illness or depression as a longstanding illness. The WI’s "care, not custody" campaign began three years ago after the death in Manchester prison of a Norfolk WI member's mentally ill son.

Andrew Lansley said each death in custody was a tragedy for those involved and that there needed to be more early intervention with diversion as a “corner stone” of care and support.

True justice for the vulnerable is about drawing them into treatment,

he said.

A full copy of his speech is available here.

Ken Clarke said that more needed to be done to get government departments, police, prosecution, probation and the courts working together.

He said:

Andrew and I want to send out a clear message that our departments, agencies and professionals need to be better joined up, in order to achieve the change we all agree is needed in this area.

A full copy of his speech is available here.

Ruth Bond, the WI chair, said their campaign aimed to ensure a higher level of co-operation between the health and justice sectors. She welcomed the announcement but said the WI would be vigilant to ensure there was "sufficient political might" behind the government's commitments.

Juliet Lyon, of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

When a highly respected organisation like the WI looks at the dark, neglected world of prisons and highlights the plight of people who are mentally ill then things start changing for the better.

Selected clips of both speeches can be viewed here

Click here to download the Care not Custody Action Pack.

To find out more about the WI's campaign click here

Selected press coverage

£5m scheme to divert mentally ill offenders from prison

Alan Travis, The Guardian, Monday 28 March 2011

Why the Women's Institute is watching Ken Clarke

Mary Riddell, The Telegraph, Tuesday 29 March 2011