Reducing the harm of criminal justice involvement for people experiencing mental health issues

Reducing the harm of criminal justice involvement for people experiencing mental health issues

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

This is the fourth in a series of short articles drawing on our six key areas of focus from our submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

People experiencing mental health issues are over-represented in the criminal justice system. Our submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System highlights some essential steps that must be taken to reduce the rates and intensity of criminal justice involvement for people with mental health issues.

‘Most people experiencing mental health issues are not violent and not involved in criminal activity,’ Victoria Legal Aid Executive Director of Criminal Law, Dan Nicholson said.

‘But people experiencing mental health issues are at greater risk of contact with the criminal justice system, and we need to do more to support them in the community to reduce that risk.’

‘The justice system must not be the default mental health service provider for our community,' Dan said.

Based on our experience working with people across the justice system, our submission to the Royal Commission makes a range of suggestions, including:

  • reducing the number of people with mental health issues entering the criminal and youth justice systems
  • increasing access to diversion, therapeutic courts and community-based sentencing options
  • recognising that people with mental health issues may not be criminally responsible for their conduct.
  • reducing the harm associated with imprisonment, including access to appropriate forensic mental health facilities
  • supporting people towards rehabilitation, recovery and life in the community.

Our submission notes that most people entering the criminal justice system do not receive a specialist response that addresses their individual needs and circumstances.

‘A small number of people have access to alternative pathways, through a therapeutic court to identify and respond to the underlying circumstances of their behaviour,’ Dan said.

‘Unfortunately, these effective therapeutic options are only available in a small number of locations around Victoria – which means many people miss out because of where they live.

'We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the legal sector, and the Royal Commission to improve access to these options, like the Drug Court and the Assessment and Referral Court.’

More information

Read more about our submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

Read more at the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System website.

 

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