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Gaols or De Facto Mental Institutions?: Why Individuals with a Mental Illness are Over-Represented in Criminal Justice System in New South Wales, Australia

NCJ Number
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume: 45 Issue: 1/2 Dated: 2007 Pages: 69-80
Corinne Henderson
Date Published
12 pages
This paper examines the over-representation of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, and the need for legislative reform to aide in breaking the cycle in the relationship between mental illness and incarceration.
In 2002, Justice Health New South Wales (NSW) noted that within the prison population, 50 percent of males and 30 percent of females warranted a mental health referral for major depression. In addition, approximately 80 percent had been incarcerated for offenses related to drug and alcohol use, which closely accompanies mental illness. There is also a strong identified causal link between mental illness and incarceration. Unfortunately, the most appropriate treatment is usually unavailable within the criminal justice system, with effective treatment emphasizing recovery and appropriate support. There has become an increased reliance on the police for crisis management and referral, regardless of the mental state of the individual. The overrepresentation of people with a mental illness in the criminal justice system is demonstration of the extent to which the social environment gives rise to mental illness, highlighting the urgent need for legislative reform and implementation of collaborative practices that break the cycle of mental illness, substance abuse, poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and interactions with the criminal justice system. It is critical to protect and preserve the human rights of people with mental illness as stated in the principles of the Australian National Mental Health Strategy: National Mental Health Plan, 2003-2008, and the NSW guidelines and standards which support a collaborative approach emphasizing a recovery model of mental health service provision within the criminal justice system, and remove itself from notions of culpability and a need for detention and punishment in order to manage the perceived risk. References