Monday, 22 December 2008

Judge to keep mentally ill man in jail

A mentally ill man has been jailed for another 12 months because the Northern Territory's top judge says there is no where else for him to go.

Christopher Leo, 28, has already spent 16 months in Alice Springs prison for the aggravated assault of a woman in August last year.

He was found unfit to stand trial but was found guilty in a special jury hearing last December.

Chief Justice Brian Martin says he had no choice but to keep Leo behind bars for another 12 months, as there was no support or housing facilities in the Territory to make him safe outside of prison.

But Leo's lawyer told the court jail had been very detrimental for him.

He says Leo tried to harm himself with a broom stick in January this year, and more jail time would hamper his ability to go back into society.

Justice Martin says it is "utterly unacceptable" there is no support or housing facilities for mentally ill people who commit minor offences, other than jail.

He says it is not good enough that the Territory has not been able to provide any accommodation or resources for the mentally ill, and this should not be so in a civilised society.

He says work to build resources and facilities for mentally ill people who commit minor offences needs to be in the pipeline by next year.

The judge says by the time the review is held in July, he expects resources and support will be available so Leo can be released into the community.

But he says even if building work on facilities started straight away, they will not be finished in time.

He ordered a transcript of today's Supreme Court proceedings to be sent to the Health Department, Department of Corrections and Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Territory Government says a housing plan which will address the lack of mental health facilitates will be released next year.

Housing Minister Rob Knight admits more needs to be done.

"A lot of people who are homeless have mental illness and need specific supported accommodation with specialised providers," he said.

"I guess we acknowledge there is an issue and there is a need there and while there are some services being provided, there is more services that need to be provided in the future."

A Territory lawyer says Leo is part of a growing list of people not receiving proper support.

Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid lawyer Mark O'Reilly says Leo has had a tough time over the past 16 months in maximum security at Alice Springs jail.

He told the Supreme Court today Leo is in a hopeless situation and the jail only has one officer to support all of its mentally ill inmates, including three men serving life imprisonment.

He says arrangements should have been made to put Leo into a suitable interstate facility in the time he had been jailed.

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