Mentally ill people jailed in Australia without being convicted of anything


Campaign to stop jailing mentally ill without conviction grows MARK COLVIN: A national campaign to stop mentally disabled people being jailed without a conviction is gaining momentum. The Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign estimates more than a hundred people are in that predicament around the country and about half of them are Indigenous Australians. Lawyers, academics and justice and welfare groups met in Melbourne today to develop an action plan. Samantha Donovan reports.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign says about 130 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with a mental disability are languishing in Australian jails without having been convicted of an offence.

Some were born with an intellectual disability and others have acquired brain injuries, including foetal alcohol syndrome.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice commissioner Mick Gooda is involved in the growing campaign to stop these jailings.

MICK GOODA: We've had Marlon Noble here today who spent 10.5 years in jail and never been found guilty of anything, the charges have now been dropped so it will never face court. So after 10.5 years in jail he's now enduring parole-like conditions of release.

Now this is happening across the country and we think it's just about time we looked at it from a few perspective, one is a health perspective, another one's a human rights perspective. This almost goes against just about every human right we know around arbitrary detention and that's what we're seeing here with people like Marlon and others.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mick Gooda says Commonwealth and state and territory governments need to take action.

MICK GOODA: The Commonwealth is our nation that signs up to international treaties that have obligations, they have that responsibility but the jurisdictions in Queensland, Northern Territory and WA are the ones that have got to start saying well if people are not fit to plead there's got to be alternatives to jail.

In the ideal world, Marlon would have gone to another facility and eventually would have got out and what you're seeing is a collision between the criminal justice system where you're innocent until proven guilty and the mental health system where you don't get out until you've proven that you're better. Well people with acquired brain injury don't get better, so you've got a situation where they can almost forever be stuck in the mental health system.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Patrick McGee is the coordinator of the Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign.

He says mentally disabled people at risk of coming to the attention of the police need to be identified early.

PATRICK MCGEE: It's far more expensive to put someone in jail than it is to provide support to them and what we also know is there's huge ethical and moral issues about, well, if you don't understand whether you're guilty or innocent, how can you understand the nature of punishment and how can you understand that you have to redeem yourself in the eyes of society and come out the other end and be a better person?

What we need to do is provide people with support so that they're not going into this situation in the first place. But if they do find themselves in this situation, that we've got methods that we understand will teach them to change their behaviour and understand the difference between right and wrong so that they cannot go back to where they've come from.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Are you envisaging some sort of supported accommodation as an intervention in these sort of cases or…?

PATRICK MCGEE: Supported accommodation that can be restrictive because some people are a serious risk of harm to others, right through to drop in support for people who just need a little bit of extra support to understand how to get through the working week and, you know, get up in the morning and have a good day and live a quality life.

MARK COLVIN: Patrick McGee, coordinator of the Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign, ending Samantha Donovan's report.