Greens welcome announcement of Mental health Court but warn that mandatory sentencing will need to be removed
19 May 2012
The Greens spokesperson for Mental Health, Alison Xamon has welcomed today’s announcement that the State Government will establish a pilot Mental Health Court but has warned that it will need to be expanded considerably if the pilot is found to be successful, and that the Government will need to reverse contrary laws such as mandatory sentencing.
In 2010 Ms Xamon presented a Motion to Parliament calling for the urgent establishment of a Mental Health Court. In 2011 the Motion was finally debated and received unanimous support from the Legislative Council.
“It is heartening to see that there is finally some movement in this area as the Greens have been calling for this for some time,” Ms Xamon said. “The Law Reform Commission had previously called for the establishment of such a Court, similar to the Drug Court, for Western Australia. Over 300 Mental Health Courts already exist around the world and they have proven to be successful in diverting people with mental illness away from the justice system. These Courts are well placed to address the underlying issues which may lead to offending behaviour. These issues may be anything from homelessness to inadequate medication regimes. All circumstances which are capable of being addressed.”
“However the announcement today is only the beginning. Although I support a pilot program, as it is essential that we get the model right, we need to realise that it will only be addressing a small number of people with mental illness who come into contact with the justice system.
“Conservative estimates say that at least 25% of people who end up in prison have mental illness, although it has been estimated that the actual number is as high as 50%.
“In addition, there is still a serious need to ensure such diversionary programs are available in our regions and if the pilot proves to be successful I hope this will be prioritised as a matter of urgency.
“As well, I hope that people presenting with co-occurring issues such as Intellectual Disability or drug addiction do not fall through the cracks as so often occurs with service delivery with these complex presentations. There is currently a Drug Court which exists out of the Magistrates Court and an Intellectually Impaired Diversionary Program. Co-occurring diagnoses will have to be managed very carefully so as to ensure offenders are placed within the correct Court or Program.
“Finally, all the Mental Health Courts in the world won’t make a difference if a person with a mental illness is charged with an offence which carries a mandatory sentence. This Government has tried to have it a bit both ways, to be seen as tough on crime by introducing mandatory sentencing, but also trying to be seen to be positive on mental health. But until the Government is prepared to be consistent in its approach to the issue of people with mental illness who offend, positive initiatives such as today’s announcement ring hollow.
“I welcome the establishment of the pilot program, but I am calling on the Government to adopt a consistent approach in this area, and to reverse their draconian laws so that Courts such as this can be truly effective,” Ms Xamon concluded.
For further comment contact Alison on 0437 700 555
Notes for editors:
In 2011 Alison Xamon introduced the Criminal Code Amendment Bill (No 2) 2011 which sought to remove mandatory sentencing provisions against people who were impaired to a significant extent by mental impairment. This Bill was debated and defeated.
The Law reform Commission Final report ‘Court Intervention Programs: Project Number 96’ recommended the establishment of a Mental Health Court
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