Unanimous support for ‘mental health court’ needs to be turned into action
22 June 2011
WA Greens Spokesperson for Mental Health, Alison Xamon, has welcomed todays unanimous support for her calls to set up a court intervention program for the mentally ill, but has warned that without a clear action plan the proposal could lose momentum and flounder. The comments came in conclusion to her motion in Parliament calling for the establishment of the court.
“Everyone has acknowledged that a mental health court is long overdue, but we need to get cracking with further consultation and a clear timeline for making this vision a reality. The longer we leave it, the longer mentally ill people will find themselves caught up in our criminal justice system,” Ms Xamon said.
In May, Ms Xamon called on the Attorney General to urgently take the advice of the Law Reform Commission and set up a court intervention programme for the mentally ill, to reduce the number of these people ending up in jail.
“A record number of people are being incarcerated in WA. Many are mentally ill or mentally impaired and they need medical help, not jail terms.
“We have a unique opportunity to capitalise on this across-the-board support for a mental health court and get it off the ground. It’s the humane option and an economically responsible one, since imprisonment is the most expensive option for dealing with mental illness,” Ms Xamon said.
Ms Xamon’s Parliamentary motion referred to Recommendation 23 of the Law Reform Commission Final Report, Court Intervention Programs: Project No.96 (June 2009) which recommends the establishment of a mental impairment court intervention program in WA.
“So far, every government has failed to act and adequately address the problem of why so many mentally ill people end up in our prisons.
“This government has made the situation even worse by introducing draconian and retrograde legislation, such as mandatory sentencing, that limits the discretion of our courts and has a devastating effect on people experiencing mental illness.
In 2008 an ABS survey found that 41% of people who had been imprisoned had suffered a mental illness in the 12 months prior to the survey. That is more than double the incidence of such disorders (19%) in people who had never been to jail.
“We know that court intervention programs are effective. For example WA’s Drug Court has been a success because it takes a therapeutic rather than a punitive approach. Programs like this can reduce crime, the strain on our prison system and prevent repeat offences.
“Our prisons should not be used as defacto mental health institutions. A mental health court is a step in the right direction to remedy this situation. I urge everyone who supports this to push it forward as a matter of urgency”
Hon Alison Xamon MLC
Member for the East Metropolitan Region
Office: 62 Eighth Ave Maylands WA 6051
Postal Address: PO Box 104 Maylands WA 6931
Phone: (08) 9272 1718
Fax: (08) 9272 1719
Portfolios: Water, Urban Bushland, Mental Health, Education, Training, Industrial Relations, Employment, Occupational Health & Safety, Disabilities, Women, Children & Youth, Public Service, Community Services, Electoral Affairs, Consumer Protection, Vet Affairs, Volunteering