This review has found that our current system for managing mentally impaired accused is unjust, under-resourced and ineffective.
People with serious mental health issues, who are not guilty of an offence are held in custody often for far longer than the offence would normally warrant. The courts do not have sufficient flexibility to achieve community safety and divert these people from custody, given they are only able to unconditionally release the person or indefinitely detain them under a ‘custody order’.
A lack of resources, particularly the chronic shortage of forensic mental health beds and the lack of a ‘declared place’ limit placement options, frequently resulting in these people being detained in prison. The prison environment can exacerbate the person’s mental health issues, often resulting in a deterioration of the condition, institutionalisation or an increased risk of violence.
While there is general agreement that reform is needed, progress has been painfully slow. However, there has been recent positive developments. Improvements to forensic mental health infrastructure are being planned and the current government has committed to building a declared place. These developments should have a significant impact on the small numbers of people held under the Act and lead us towards a fairer more effective system.