Racism, mental health and pre-crime policing: the ethics of Vulnerability Support Hubs

Racism, mental health and pre-crime policing: the ethics of Vulnerability Support Hubs – Report Cover

Our latest report, Racism, mental health & pre-crime policing: the ethics of Vulnerability Support Hubs, exposes a secretive counterterrorism police-led mental health project called  ‘Vulnerability Support Hubs’. Thousands of individuals suspected of potential ‘extremism’ – a vague and racialised term which the government itself has tried and failed to legally define – have been assessed by the hubs, in which mental health professionals collude with counterterrorism police officers. 

Based on documents obtained through a series of long-running Freedom of Information requests, our report shows how the hubs blur the boundaries between security and care. It raises the following ethical concerns:

  • Activities beyond the health remit: the hubs embed NHS mental health professionals within regional counterterrorism police units and encourage health workers to ‘monitor’ patients, and help conduct ‘combined’ mental health and terrorism risk assessments.
  • Stigma: the hubs were substantially premised on dubious associations between mental health and terrorism and exacerbate this stigmatising assumption.
  • Racism: a racialised Muslim is at least 23 times more likely to be referred to a mental health hub for ‘Islamism’ than a white British individual is for ‘Far Right extremism’.
  • Securitisation: counterterrorism policing’s often spurious and highly racialised pre-crime security concerns may be improperly influencing medical treatment and implicating health workers in criminalisation.
  • Circumventing confidentiality: the hubs use a ‘consultancy’ model which appears to allow police to circumvent normal confidentiality expectations.
  • Coercion: there are serious concerns about the deployment of medicine as a security device, including coercing people into the Channel ‘deradicalisation’ scheme.
  • Pathologisation: the hubs use sub-diagnostic thresholds and risk pathologising people based on political expression or socioeconomic vulnerability.
  • Lack of transparency: the project has partly been funded with NHS money, yet police strenuously resisted disclosure of any information about the scheme.
  • Lack of scrutiny: despite a lack of independent evaluation and public scrutiny, the scheme is currently being rolled out nationwide by the police via ‘Project Cicero’.
  • Deterrence: the scheme risks worsening mistrust and further deterring racialised groups from accessing healthcare when in need.

Online launch: Report co-authors Dr Hilary Aked, Dr Tarek Younis and Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly will discuss the report alongside Vicki Nash – Head of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs at mental health charity Mind – at our online launch event on Weds 19 May at 7pm.

Read the original data: In the interests of transparency and enabling public scrutiny, we are publishing the 2017 hub evaluation documents on which this report is based, which we have combined into one PDF document.

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