Friday, 12 December 2008

Slow release for mentally ill prisoners

This would occur over time and there would be no sudden mass release of prisoners: MHRT

As many as 2000 NSW prisoners will receive improved psychiatric care under a revision to forensic mental health legislation.

The changes will also secure the earlier release, under community treatment orders, of some people whose illness had previously made them unsuitable for parole.

Greg James, QC, president of the Mental Health Review Tribunal and architect of the reforms - already enacted and likely to go into effect from February - said the tribunal would supervise psychiatric treatment for prisoners and ensure it continued after their release. According to some estimates, nearly half of prisoners have some form of mental illness.

Court diversion programs are preventing about 1600 mentally-ill people a year from receiving a jail sentence, but the changes mean that for the first time psychiatric treatment for those who are jailed will be co-ordinated with treatment after release. Both will be under the tribunal's supervision, with individual treatment orders made by a panel comprised of a judge, a forensic psychiatrist and another mental health practitioner.

Mr James said about one-fifth of some 2000 forensic patients had been judged unfit to stand trial on account of their mental illness, while the remainder were serving their sentences. Of these people, about 1000 might otherwise be eligible for parole, but "the parole board does not regard them as capable of adjusting to community life," he said.

The new treatment regime would accelerate such people's parole, Mr James said, but this would occur over time and there would be no sudden mass release of prisoners. "The expertise is all in place" in community health services, he said. "I don't think you'll find community agencies will be stretched."

Philip Mitchell, the head of the school of psychiatry at the University of NSW and chairman of the NSW Mental Health Priority Taskforce, said the standard of mental health care in jails was improving. "It's not perfect but there's been a shift and very capable people are moving into forensic mental health," he said. Young doctors now competed for training places that had previously been impossible to fill.

Nevertheless, the legislative changes and a new forensic hospital to be opened at Long Bay but run by NSW Justice Health (a division of the NSW Department of Health) represented "a huge expansion" in psychiatric services, Professor Mitchell said. "The challenge for the system will be getting enough staff."

John Basson, the statewide clinical director of forensic mental health within NSW Justice Health, said many senior doctors had applied to work at the facility, but the agency was having difficulty attracting enough junior doctors. Mental health nurse recruitment was also problematic. "We're struggling like everyone else," he said.


Chock-a-block: state's jails bursting at seams
A new jail every two years - that is what's required to house NSW's prisoners.

Death brinkmanship patients lockdown
“The Minister for Justice Mr Hazistergos has been finally called to order by patients in the Long Bay Prison Hospital. After his unmet promise to Parliament on November 12 that no forensic patients would remain locked down in his prison hospital after November 28, the first protest has occurred” said JA spokesperson Brett Collins.

“Finally the government has acknowledged the right of mental patients to treatment that respects their special needs. To cause vulnerable citizens to suffer for administrative purposes is essentially torture and diminishes us as a community” said JA spokesperson Brett Collins.

“Patients under state control have had their social interaction reduced, and right to smoke removed. These vulnerable and isolated citizens, to whom the state owes a special obligation, are extremely distressed and have asked for community assistance,” said JA spokesperson Michael Poynder.

Madness causing madness in prison hospital
“Fifty mental health patients held at the Long Bay Prison Hospital have from yesterday been locked in cells from 3.30 in the afternoon rather than the normal 9pm” said JA spokesperson Brett Collins.

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