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Mental Health Within The Criminal Justice System

2683 words - 11 pages

This essay intends to address the role that state agencies, both within the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and more broadly the institutions of education, employment and health, play in supporting and implementing diversionary programs for offenders with mental health problems. Mental health is clearly one of the most critical issues facing the Australian and New South Wales (NSW) CJS with research indicating that offenders with mental health problems constitute the majority of those within the prison system. The current strategies for diversion will be critically evaluated in order to determine their effectiveness with regard to the delivery and production of justice, cultural sensitivity for Indigenous Australians will also be considered. The social construction of mental illness and the associated process of stigmatisation of this particular group will be explored in conjunction to explain why society still fails to prevent the mass entry of people with mental health issues into the traditional CJS.

Critical to understanding the extent of the problem is a clear definition of mentally ill, “a person suffering from mental illness and, owing to that illness, there are reasonable grounds for believing that care, treatment or control of the person is necessary for the person’s own protection from serious harm, or for the protection of others from serious harm” [Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW)]. Noting that the statute specifies the ‘control’ of this group which adds to the notion that people with mental health problems are inherently more dangerous members of our society. Furthermore mental health problems within the prison system (inmate population) are estimated to be three to four times higher than in the general Australian population (Beyond Bars Alliance (BBA) 2007, p. 1). Results from a 2001 study of 953 inmates who were screened at four of the five male reception centres and one female reception centre in NSW indicates that the twelve month prevalence for any psychiatric disorder among inmates was 77%, significantly higher than that of the Australian population 22% (Butler & Allnutt 2003, p. 48). Also for any mental disorder the inmate prevalence rate was almost three times the rate of the Australian population (15% vs. 42% among inmates) (Butler & Allnutt 2003, p. 48). These statistics clearly demonstrate the critical nature of the mental health issue within the NSW CJS and in particular the prison system.

The social construction of mental illness limit an individual’s life opportunities as they are labelled “psychotic stalkers, comic figures, neurotics who do everything to excess, or sometimes as sympathetic characters” (DeVoe 2003-2004, p. 926) rarely are they viewed as competent members of society as illustrated by Howard Geld experience, “many years ago, I was diagnosed manic depressive psychotic and ever since then I have tried to live up to it.” (Howard Geld cited in DeVoe 2003-2004, p. 925). However events such as NSW Mental...

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