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Mental health, vulnerability and risk in police custody

Maggie Leese (Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK)
Sean Russell (West Midlands Police, Birmingham, UK)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 9 October 2017




The issue of mental health and policing is a subject that has been debated from a number of different perspectives. The purpose of this paper is to report on the findings of a case study that explored mental health difficulties and vulnerability within police custody.


The design of the study was qualitative, and it utilised telephone, semi-structured interviews with all levels of the custody staff. This approach was taken because the aim of the study was to explore how people in different roles within the organisation worked to safeguard vulnerable people in custody.


The findings from this study identified a number of interesting themes that could be explored further in later studies. Overall, the respondents expressed frustration that vulnerable people find themselves in police custody for low-level crime, when it could have been avoided with improved mental health services in the community. Additionally, the findings demonstrated that despite the processes that are designed to safeguard the detainee, tensions still exist including, timely access to mental health assessments, appropriate training and support for staff and the use of appropriate adults.

Research limitations/implications

Although the study was small in scale, the custody facility delivered detainee facilities for about 5,000 individuals per year. The research and information obtained supported the police lead for mental health to identify opportunities for improving the customer journey, as well as recognising the need for further research to identify how officers and staff relate to vulnerable individuals in contact with the police service.


Despite the limitations of the study, the findings have captured interesting data from a range of professionals working in one police custody suite, and therefore it presents a holistic overview of some key issues around mental health, vulnerability and safeguarding within the context of police custody.



Leese, M. and Russell, S. (2017), "Mental health, vulnerability and risk in police custody", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 274-283.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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