Mentally ill people are being sent to prison in record numbers here in WA, due largely to a lack of funding in mental health services and draconian mandatory sentencing laws. In the latest enquiry from the Commissioner for Children and Young People, a very clear link was made between insufficient mental health funding and the number of youth offenders who pass through our courts. Up to 60 percent of young people who commit criminal acts have mental health issues.
In our wealthy state, it is unbelievable that four in five children with mental health issues are missing out on crucial early intervention and help because of a lack of state funding. While the Government spends up on the building of even more prisons, our most valuable assets, our children, are being neglected when they most need our help.
Despite the obvious connection between mental health and our criminal justice system, mentally ill people, young and old, are ending up in prison rather than receiving appropriate help.
This is not the first time the problem has been highlighted. In 2009, the Law Reform Commission advised the government to set up a Mental Health Court intervention programme, similar to the successful Drugs Court. Alison called on the government to take the advice of the Commission and she received widespread support. Alison is keeping the pressure on her parliamentary colleagues to carry out further consultations so that the concept is implemented sooner rather than later.
Mandatory sentencing laws also greatly affect the mentally ill. Currently in Western Australia, if a person is found guilty of assaulting or causing grievous bodily harm to a member of our emergency services or security officers they are given a mandatory jail sentence of 6 months and up to 3 months for juveniles aged between 16-18. The courts no longer have the discrection to order appropriate sentencing or treatment for mentally ill offenders.
Our prison system should not be used as a dumping ground for the mentally ill. We can reduce the number of mentally ill people in our prisons with the right legislation and programs targeting early intervention, court diversion and appropriate treatment.