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Response needed to mental illness in prisons

Media Release
Penny Wright 5 Jul 2012

The high proportion of prisoners with a mental illness shows that Australian jails have become the psychiatric crisis centres of the 21st century, the Australian Greens said today.  

Speaking in response to a report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Greens spokesperson for Mental Health, Senator Penny Wright, said: "We know that people with a mental illness are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

"As a result, prisons have become the de-facto mental health institutions of the 21st century. In this role, they have failed dismally - people are not being rehabilitated and there are high rates of recidivism amongst prisoners with mental illnesses.

"This is an issue we can no longer overlook. It is important that people coming into contact with the criminal justice system are screened for mental health conditions so that decisions can be made as to their appropriate management. Those with mental illnesses who become prisoners should then be held in accommodation where they have access to the care and services they need. 

"We must invest adequate resources in community treatment programs that will help people with a mental illness avoid unnecessary contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.  

"We also need to invest more in early intervention and diversion programs.  This will assist in reducing crime and will ultimately make our communities safer."

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