Wednesday, June 23, 2004

National Mental Health Conference

I attended a National Mental Health Conference Last Monday 21 of June at Canberra ACT. The conference started off with a welcome message from Patrick Dodson.

Dr Carmen Lawrence MHR, opened the Forum and spoke about her role and she spoke of concerns about children in detention and people coming to our shores for help to escape their persecution and they are put in detention in Australia. The Pacific solution in Nauru where some are held for 12 months and some for up to 2 or 3 years.

Issues discussed were people in detention and how hard it was for some asylum seekers who arrived in Australia in a boat are often held in detention.

Trauma was also discussed in the Conference and how the public health system fails to diagnosed trauma which is a condition of the brain which makes people want to harm themselves or harm others.

Prof Judy Atkinson

She presented to the forum indigenous issues from Port Augusta SA and Marling SA she stated SA Aboriginal people have the highest custody rate of people with mental illness being held in SA prisons, as there are no services for them to go to.

Some people talked about the lack of health services in the bush. Aboriginal nurses and doctors are being trained up to go to the outback to help aboriginal people. Torture was another issue facing asylum seekers who are denied refuge status and fear being sent back to their persecutors.

All people will send copies of their speech to the Save Australia Website in 2 weeks time.

Workshops I attended:

Survivors and services

A doctor spoke about her service. She would treat a person and her service costs money so we compared this to the public health system where if you have no money the only option available is the public health system where there is a waiting period that varies at different health services.

Another person spoke on his experience in Callum Park Mental Hospital where a psychiatrist locked him up and then discharged him giving him the Salvation Army number with no follow up.

I put two questions to him:

1. When you say the hospital locked you up, were you locked in or were you only required to stay at the hospital?

Answer: The first 2 admissions he was locked in the 3rd admission he was not locked in as Callum Park was then closed.

2. At the Salvation Army did you have the follow up treatment as an outpatient? The reply was no!

Discussion took place and I informed the conference that a prisoner was found not guilty by reason of mental illness and he was taken to tracks which is solitary confinement at Long Bay Prison instead of going to Long Bay Prison Hospital for treatment the person hung himself in solitary confinement.

Prisoners in the HRMU are denied basic health services.

Death in custody: In memory of Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson 34 died in custody on 7 June 2004 leaving behind a child. It is alleged that he hanged himself in a segregation yard at Long Bay Prison Complex. Justice Action has reasons to believe that Scott had been mistreated from the time he was taken into custody and the subsequent events that ensued that led to his sad death. We think that his treatment may well have caused his death.

Justice Action has reasons to believe that Scott had been mistreated from the time he was taken into custody and the subsequent events that ensued that led to his sad death. We think that his treatment may well have caused his death.

Where do we go from here?

Issues were discussed on each topic and a list of recommendations were made.

1. Changing the wording of "mental illness" to another name as "mental illness" sounds like a disease to the general public. Carmen Lawrence MHR will seek advice if the name can be changed or not.

Aboriginal groups called for the sacking of Mr John Howard and Mr Peter Costello and charges of breaches of humanity should be laid by the International Court. Carmen Lawrence MHR rejected the proposal.

In support of the Aboriginal people calling for the sacking I quoted a report from the 7:30 report heading Habib's silence raises mental health fears.

For the detainees held in Guantanamo Bay Prisoners David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib and I asked what is the Government doing about these people?

Answer: The Labor party is very concerned about the treatment they are receiving from US authorities they do not agree with the Military Tribunal model.

The Labor Party and the Greens have indicated if they got in at the next federal election they would bring the Guantanamo Bay prisoner's home. I then submitted that the war was over and the prisoners should had been released under the Geneva Convention "Prisoners of War Declaration". I suggested that if the pollies cannot do their Job then some of us should run for Parliament. Labor responded we do need more members to join.

In closing this brief report there are issues in criminal justice about mental health problems. Asylum seekers in detention centres who have mental health problems. Prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in the US and Australia which has it's own Guantanamo Bay called the (HRMU) High Risk Management Unit located at Goulburn Jail. A box within a box with no fresh air or sunlight and where prisoners live below the survival level like "freezing and starving" in isolation with no constructive lifestyle.

I have thanked Mr Maqsood for granting me free entry to the conference. This brief report is completed. I will give a full report in 2 weeks time when I receive a copy of each speakers speech.

By James Condren Justice Action posted 23 June 04


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