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Address mental health issues to reduce criminal offending, LIV says

Address mental health issues to reduce criminal offending, LIV says

By LIV Media


The LIV has called on the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health to address the ways mental health intersects with the criminal justice system.

There is a clear correlation between untreated mental illness and a heightened risk of criminal offending, the LIV pointed out in its submission to the Commission.

Nationwide, almost half (49 per cent) of all prisoners have at some time in their life been advised by a medical professional that they have a mental illness.

LIV president Stuart Webb said it is not uncommon that the first contact prisoners have with mental health services occurs after they have been arrested. “This is a crucial period which provides an important opportunity to address the mental health and addiction issues that are so often contributory factors to offending,” he said.

He said successful mental health intervention requires properly resourced support services to address addiction issues, including treatment in terms of medications, in addition to psychosocial supports.

“It is important the most marginalised are supported by a system that assists appropriately. This is especially true for significant numbers of prisoners with a mental illness. They need services, including accommodation, to help assimilate back into the community and reduce recidivism rates.”

The LIV has made 50 recommendations in its submission, drawing on the expertise and experience of lawyers specialising in assisting people with psychiatric disabilities and mental illness to exercise their legal rights.

Among them is a recognition of the high proportion of children who reside in out of home care who come into contact with the criminal justice system from an early age, particularly if they have a mental illness.

“Misbehaviour and youthful defiance of children who live at home is usually dealt with within the family, but in out of home care such behaviour is often referred to police” Mr Webb said.

The LIV also recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age, to divert children out of the criminal justice system, and keep them connected to the family and community support structures that underpin their mental health.

The LIV submission also called for:

  • Reform of the mental health system to be approached in a holistic systems-wide manner that includes housing, drug and alcohol treatment, employment, and access to justice
  • Adequate funding to support wrap-around services
  • Decriminalising mental illness by diverting people from the criminal justice system into community based mental health services
  • Prioritising accommodation for those discharged from facilities or prisons
  • Proportionate and appropriate responses by Victoria Police to individuals experiencing mental illness
  • Therapeutic jurisprudence to be the preferred response to accused persons suffering mental illness
  • Changes to bail laws so remand is used only when appropriate
  • Therapeutic facilities to be available for those who appropriate remandees
  • More court resources to provide mental health assessment, including in family law matters
  • More stringent policies regarding prisoners with severe mental illness sharing cells with  mainstream inmates
  • A review of potentially traumatising practices such as strip searches for women, the use of solitary confinement or the slot
  • Culturally appropriate mental health care for Indigenous prisoners
  • Better transitional support for prisoners to reduce the likelihood they return to substance abuse and reoffending and other poor health practices
  • A spent conviction scheme to prevent discrimination against former offenders
  • A review of the Mental Health Act 2014
  • Greater weight to be given to human rights principles, treaties and conventions
  • Education of lawyers and other frontline service workers about mental illness

For the full list of recommendations and the LIV submission click here.

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