How to use this Guide

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This “Survival Guide” is designed for people with a serious mental illness who find themselves in trouble with the law or have contact with criminal justice agencies – especially the police – who are intervening because they believe you are unwell.

The guide will cover each aspect of the process and it will advise you of your rights and responsibilities along the way. In this guide we look at the different stages people may go through as they move through the criminal justice system, as follows:

However, it’s important to remember that most people who enter the system don’t end up in prison, even if they are convicted of an offence.

The criminal justice system is not set up to deal with people with mental illness. The agencies you come across will have some experience in this area but it is not their sole function. It is in your interest (as much as you are able) to be clear about your mental health needs and the treatment and care you need. And don’t assume the worst: the experience of Hafal Members is that the police and others in the criminal justice agencies will usually be helpful to you, especially if you explain your problems to them.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions as you go along. It is perfectly reasonable to ask:

“What is happening to me?”

“Will you let my carer know where I am?”

“Will you arrange for me to see a doctor as I have a mental illness for which I receive/need treatment?”

We know that realistically mental illness may sometimes cause people to behave in ways which other people can find strange and problematic, and this can lead to contact with the criminal justice system. In some cases this will not be because you have done anything wrong but because the police feel they need to intervene when you are ill; in other cases you may actually have committed an offence and the police may want to interview and/or charge you, in which case this guide will help you understand what is happening to you.

If you do enter the criminal justice system, we would offer the following general advice, although we give more specific advice in each section:

  • People working in criminal justice agencies will generally want to help you, especially if they understand that you have a mental illness.


  • All of the agencies that you may come across have a duty towards people with mental illness under their care. If you want to see their codes that govern your rights and how you are treated, ask them.


  • If you are unhappy with any treatment you have received, ask for a complaint form.


  • If you have had a positive experience from any of the agencies try to give them positive feedback. This helps agencies to know what they are doing right and this may help other people in the same situation as you.



In Wales the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 (Welsh law) provides key rights to people with a serious mental illness, including the right to a comprehensive,holistic  care plan if you are a user of secondary mental health services. The care plan can help you to plan your way towards recovery wherever you are in the criminal justice process. For more information visit Hafal’s Mental Health Measure page.