Jails housing mentally ill
THE Clarence Valley has less than half a full time equivalent psychiatrist position servicing the area and no acute mental health facility as mentally ill offenders end up in jail instead of proper care.
Grafton and Maclean magistrate Kim Pogson is calling for a full-time mental health facility to be established in the Clarence Valley to better care for mentally ill people and prevent them from ending up in prison.
Mr Pogson also outlined a massive waste of police resources as offenders who had to be assessed for mental illness were driven to Lismore or Coffs Harbour for assessment under police guard.
“You refer them off for an assessment under section 33 of the mental health act to see if there is in fact a mental health issue – then they’re in police custody and they in fact remain in police custody until that assessment has been done,” Mr Pogson said.
“...depending on the state of mental services down there they could be there at 4pm in the afternoon and they can’t deal with it till the next morning. Now he’s still in police custody – they’ve got to stand guard over him until the assessment’s done and then bring him back.”
Mr Pogson said some mentally ill people had ended up in jail due to a lack of proper facilities in the area.
“You shouldn’t have mentally ill people in jail – just not the place for them,” Mr Pogson said.
“You must determine what’s best for the protection of the community, too ... if you’ve got a mentally ill person in the community running around committing offences, the best place for them is in the hospital but if there is no hospital, unfortunately that (jail) is where they’ve got to go.
“There are clearly people who I’ve had before me – if you look at the facts and their background – and clearly there is a mental health issue – and yet a lot of the times they are held in custody when they should really be in hospital.
“Now whether that’s a reflection that there’s no space in hospitals I don’t know – it’s very difficult I mean the number of mentally ill – it’s a growing problem and yet it seems the facilities just aren’t there.”
Mr Pogson’s statements concurred with a recent press release from the Mental Health Council of Australia which stated jail exacerbated mental illness for sufferers, making the system counter productive.
A North Coast Area Health Service spokesperson said there were no plans to establish a mental health facility in the Clarence Valley.
The spokesperson outlined the services that do exist on the North Coast (see the fact box below), including the Mental Health Acute Care Service which, she said, was available in Grafton daily.
But this service, the spokesperson said, was not able to be used for assessing offenders because it was not a ‘declared mental health facility’ – a requirement of the Mental Health Act.
Member for Clarence Steve Cansdell joined the call for a Clarence Valley mental health facility, saying mental health was the biggest health issue in the area.
Mental Health Services
Clarence Valley Mental Health Service is funded for the following positions:
- 0.4 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Psychiatrist
- 8 FTE Acute Care Service workers available 16 hours a day, 7 days a week
North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) operates the following acute inpatient mental health units: Tweed 25 beds, Lismore 40 beds, Coffs Harbour 30 beds, Kempsey 10 beds, Port Macquarie 12 beds.
NCAHS has a 20-bed Mental Health Rehabilitation Unit at Coffs Harbour and an eight-bed Child and Adolescent Mental Health Inpatient Unit at Lismore Base Hospital, which service the whole NCAHS.
Community Mental Health Services are located at Port Macquarie, Kempsey, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Lismore and Tweed Heads.
Clarence Valley MHS admits patients to either Coffs Harbour Adult Mental Health Unit or Lismore Adult Mental Health Unit.
Extended Care Service (Case Management Service) is made up of registered nurses, social workers and psychologists available Monday to Friday for the following age groups:
- 4.8 FTE Mental Health Workers for adults (18 to 64 years of age)
- 1 FTE elderly (65 years onwards) Mental Health Specialist
- 3 FTE child and adolescents (12 to 17 years of age) Mental Health Workers
- 1 FTE Aboriginal Mental Health Worker
NCAHS provides funding to non-government organisations (NGOs) across the area. These organisations provide accommodation support services and some NGOs also operate centre-based rehabilitation/living skill programs. In the Clarence Valley, Community Programs Incorporated provides a six-bed ‘hostel’ for mental health clients at Kent Street, Grafton, as well as outreach support programs.
In the 2009/10 financial year NCAHS has received $61.3 million specifically for Mental Health, which is an increase of 9.4 per cent on the previous financial year. Of this amount, the Coffs/Clarence Network received $16.4 million for mental health, which is a 26 per cent increase on the previous year.