DNA records criminalise innocent mental health patients

Matilda MacAttram

Charity Black Mental Health UK have launched a new poll to gauge public opinion on the practice of retaining the genetic profiles of mental health patients on the national criminal DNA database.

The online survey, launched by the campaign group this week, is encouraging people to add their views on an issue that may affect one in four people in their lifetime and comes as concern grows that innocent people will inadvertently be caught in the growing criminal database net.

The poll comes after a meeting with politicians, health experts and community leaders last week, organised by BMH UK, to discuss concerns about the growing numbers of innocent people from minority communities who have found their details stored on the criminal database against their will.

With referrals rates of African Caribbean's to mental health services from the police and criminal justice system almost double that of their white counterparts, there are concerns that thousands of vulnerable patients are being criminalised through this process.

Currently anyone cautioned or even stopped and searched by the police will have their DNA taken as standard procedure. This has led to an exponential increase in the numbers of people who have not been convicted of any crime having their details added to the database, which was originally introduced as a means of storing the genetic profiles of convicted criminals.

Currently 55 per cent of African Caribbean men who are on the database have not been convicted of any crime. Government figures suggest that by 2010, 77 per cent of young black men will have their details held on the database; this is despite this group being less likely to have committed a crime than their white counterparts.

Health campaigners are concerned that this may include mental health service users who will become further marginalised. Recent research published by the national charity Rethink showed that public attitudes toward people who have used mental health service are at best uninformed and often acts as a barrier to people reintegrating into society. Health experts say that having one's DNA added to a criminal database in the process of accessing health care is detrimental to a patient's well being and may hinder a patient's recovery.

 "The way the National DNA criminal database has been used means that now anyone can find themselves on it. With one in four people likely to be affected by mental illness within their lifetime this is something that could affect any family in the UK. Visitors to our site adding their opinion to this poll will allow us to more accurately gauge what the public feeling is on this issue," Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK said.

Matilda Macattram is Director of BMHUK. Visit the BMHUK site and take part in the poll. This will enable them to more accurately measure public feeling on this important issue.