Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mental Health Tribunal recommendations on forensic inmates

Below is the answer we have received from the Minister for Health regarding prisoners recommended for parole or release by the Mental Health Tribunal FYI

NSW: The excuse provided for not providing the exact numbers shows breath-taking arrogance.

ACE would appreciate your input on this matter.


Dr Chesterfield-Evans: asked the Special Minister of State, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for the Central Coast representing the Minister for Health

(1) How many prisoners have been recommended for parole or release by the Mental Health Tribunal?


(a) Of those, how many have been released or paroled?

(b) How many are still awaiting Ministerial approval?

(3) What is the average waiting time between the Mental Health Tribunal recommending release and prisoners being released?


(1) and (2) (a) The Mental Health Review Tribunal makes recommendations to the Minister for Health about the detention, care and treatment of forensic patients.

(2) The Tribunal may recommend the release of a forensic patient, subject to conditions, or unconditionally, where satisfied that the safety of the patient or of any member of the public will not be seriously endangered by the person's release. Forensic patients fall into three main categories:

- Persons found not guilty by reasons of mental illness;

- Persons found unfit to be tried;

- Correctional centre inmates who become mentally ill and are transferred to hospital for treatment.

The Mental Health Review Tribunal has now been in existence for over eighteen years.

Searches of individual patient records would be required in order to respond to the question in the level of detail sought. To do so would substantially and unjustifiably divert public resources away from the exercise of core functions.

(b) As at 16 November 2004, there were six persons with recommendations for release being considered. These recommendations are at various procedural stages, as required by the Mental Health Act.

(3) The processes leading to a release differ between the categories of forensic patient. However, in all cases, the Minister for Health must first notify the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions of the receipt of a recommendation for release. Those officers then have a statutory period of 30 days in which to notify of any objection to the release.

Where there are any concerns about supporting a release recommendation, procedural fairness requires that the patient be advised, usually through his/her advocate, and be given the opportunity to make additional submissions. The length of the period over which the release recommendation is considered may be affected by the time taken by the patient and his/her advocate to respond to the invitation to make submissions.

Measures have recently been introduced to reduce the amount of time consumed in consideration of release recommendations

By Paul Corben 24 February 05

Paul Corben
Researcher to the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans MLC Australian Democrats

Related History:

At the Minister's Pleasure The case of Michael Kelly

In 1996, Michael Kelly, husband and father of two, shot a stranger on the stairwell in his block of units. Michael was terrified the stranger would harm his wife and children.

He was in the grip of a serious mental psychosis when he pulled the trigger. A court found him not guilty of grievous bodily harm on the grounds of mental illness.

That was six years ago, and Michael is still in gaol.

If he had been found guilty, he would probably have served his sentence and been released by now.

Instead, Michael is still struggling with the frustration of prison routine in the mental ward inside Long Bay Gaol. His wife visits him as often as she can, taking along the kids, who are growing up without him.

Michael is caught up in a particularly cruel version of the game of Cat and Mouse. Because he is classified as a forensic patient under the Mental Heath Act of NSW, the Minister for Health is his master, not the Minister for Corrective Services. And the Minister for health will not let him go.

The Act requires a Mental Health Tribunal to review Michael's case every six months. The legal requirements of the Tribunal under the Mental Health Act is to determine if a forensic patient poses a risk to the community if they don't they should not be held in prison

The Tribunal, who themselves are experts in psychiatry, must call expert witnesses, the treating psychiatrist and psychiatric nurses who have observed him for years, his family and others.

For the past two years the Tribunal has found Michael ready to be placed in the community for treatment and rehabilitation. The expert forensic psychiatric team managing him say he poses no risk to the community. The community psychiatric team has repeatedly reported they are ready to take him into care.

His community placement would be subject to a stringent set of conditions. He would be assessed regularly by a psychiatrist, and case managed by staff expert in forensic case management. He would undergo regular drug/alcohol testing, because he will not be permitted to use mood-changing drugs.

Should he show any signs of mental illness or fail to cooperate with treatment, he can be returned to prison under the restraints of the Mental Health Act. Michael has agreed to all these conditions.

Why then is he still in prison? That is the question we put to Craig Knowles, Minister for Health NSW. The Minister sent us an evasive letter but gave us a clue to his thinking.

"I take very seriously decisions with respect to forensic patients. While the Mental Heath Tribunal is responsible for making recommendations the decision to approve or reject those recommendations rests with me.

I must be certain their mental illness is controlled and they no longer pose a risk."

I point to the Canadian experience of concentration of discretionary powers in the hands of government ministers in the name of the so-called War on Terror.

Knowle's use of power is another example of the same trend. The deliberate undermining of professional psychiatric teams by the Minister's refusal to release mentally ill people under his control must end. Craig Knowles must go and his power to decide these matters must be taken away from him.

ED: How did we give one man, one key, to the roll of abnormality without any qualifications to diagnose one single person's integrity, above specialists in the field of psychiatry?

Review of the Mental Health Act 1990 - discussion paper

Submission of the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) and Justice Action (JA) to the NSW Health Department's

Discussion Paper on the Review of the Mental Health Act.

In addition forensic matters should not be subject to Ministerial Discretion because it is inappropriate use of Parliamentary powers people with positive reports from the (MHRT) Mental Health Review Tribunal for release, conditional release and transfer (for example to allow people with intellectual disability to transfer to jail Disability Units from jail forensic wards) are kept for years unnecessarily in inappropriate accommodation and in jail.

This is a supreme injustice. We also consider, despite legal decisions regarding States, that separation of powers under the Westminster system is a good idea if the current style of democracy exists - the future is unknown but consider Queensland under Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

These situations can be somewhat resolved by following 2003WHO/1991UN principles, and international standards on Human, Civil and other Rights - monthly reviews for involuntary patients and 3 monthly for voluntary; protection of Indigenous ethnic groups and minorities via cultural respect, autonomy, community controlled mental services etc; and removing the Minister's duty and power of sign off on the MHRT decision. As per Q30, less demand (via originally having social/community support and services) for MHRT hearings would increase effectiveness and allow higher frequency.

Rights of review and oversight for patients must not be diminished. The extent of video-conferencing and phone hearings is an injustice (as described in Q30). Accessibility could be increased by employing more members, as there are currently exceedingly few.

Free legal representation must be available by right for hearings before the MHRT for reasons the same as for Magistrates hearings.

We have never heard anyone, from conservative bodies to activists, support the Ministerial Discretion power. It must be discarded.

'Killing Rational' and Prisoner Control in NSW

The prisoners are deprived of all basics and made to earn small things in order to survive. DCS do this until the prisoner's head caves in or self harms. Once the damage is done DCS send them to the Long Bay Mental Health Facility and put them on drugs to control them.

Mental illness and the criminal justice system

Carol Berry, Solicitor – Health Policy and Advocacy, Public Interest Advocacy Centre

US: Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System

Today, some 283,800 inmates are identified as having a mental illness. This represents 16% of the inmate populations of state and local jails. Jails have effectively become America’s new mental institutions; they house a larger volume of mentally ill people than all other programs combined. However, these inmates rarely receive the treatment that they need and have a right to. The criminal justice system is overpopulated and under equipped to deal with those with psychotic disorders requiring mental health care services.

Relationship Between Mental Disorder And Violence

Similar scrutiny must also be applied to the theory that people with a mental illness are more violent than the general population.

Violence and violent crime are commonly regarded by the public as the domain of the mentally ill (Australian Institute of Criminology, 1990). Public misconception about the true nature of mental illness, as distinct from personality disorder or behavioural disorder, frequently links extreme violence with mental illness. This misconception is enhanced by media depictions of the involvement of the 'schizophrenic' or 'psycho' in violent crime. The Victorian Government's health information website, BetterHealth Channel, gives the following content analysis:

People with Mental Retardation in the Criminal Justice System

How many people with mental retardation are in the criminal justice system?

Based on the 1990 census, an estimated 6.2 to 7.5 million people in the United States have mental retardation. Various studies have suggested between 2 percent to 10 percent of the prison population has mental retardation. Denkowski & Denkowski (1985) found that about 2 percent of all inmates in either state or federal prisons have mental retardation (about 14,000 people). Another study conducted by the state of New York found similar results: between 1.8 percent and 2.2 percent of people with mental retardation were imprisoned (Sundram, 1990). Residential programs that house offenders with mental retardation support another 12,500 people who have been convicted, or suspected of, committing a crime (Noble & Conley, 1992).


Parklea Prison: No calls for six days
The last calls that were made out of Parklea Correctional Complex by my partner, an inmate in remand at Parklea, was on Wednesday 2 February. The phone lines for the inmates have been out of service to this date.

'Killing Rational' and Prisoner Control in NSW
I'm writing to you regarding xxxx, he has rung me a few times in the past weeks and has been drugged to the max, he rang today twice and could hardly speak to me, he said he was going to ring you and talk to you about it but he couldn't so I told him I would get in contact with you and see what you could do! He has told them he doesn't want the sedatives but they hold him down and give it to him anyway, they have drugged him 4 times in the last 2 days he said.

Prison visits in crisis in NSW
The reason I am writing today is to address a difficult situation that my husband and my family are going through. My husband is currently serving a sentence at Lithgow Correctional Centre in NSW.

Prison boom will prove a social bust
Hardened criminals are not filling NSW's prisons - the mentally ill and socially disadvantaged are, writes Eileen Baldry.

The prison system requires assiduous oversight
As NSW Attorney General Bob Debus noted in 1996: "The kinds of complaints which occur in the system may seem trivial to outsiders but in the superheated world of the prison, such issues can produce explosive results."

Goulburn Jail breaches UN standards
NSW: Greens MP Lee Rhiannon has called on Justice Minister John Hatzistergos to bring Goulburn Jail's Maximum Security Wing into line with United Nations standards, after a prison inmate's covert survey of his fellow inmates revealed problems with rehabilitation programs and basic amenities.

Isolation, psychiatric treatment and prisoner' control
The 2003 NSW Corrections Health Service (now Justice Health) Report on Mental Illness Among NSW Prisoners states that the 12 month prevalence of any psychiatric disorder in prison is 74%, compared to 22% in the general community, and while this includes substance disorder the high rate cannot be attributed to that alone.

Where the Norm is Not the Norm: HARM-U
In the absence of public policy, this paper is an attempt to shine a light through the rhetoric and test for coherency in the policy and function of NSW’s only supermax prison, the High Risk Management Unit. Its present use will be compared with the ‘vision’ flogged by the Premier and the Department of Corrective Services (the Department) at its inception in 2001.

Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

NSW Greens lose bid to stop jail boss getting more power
She said the regulation represents "shades of Guantanamo Bay", with the Carr government using draconian measures which fed the resentment and unfairness that caused terrorism.

NSW Prisoners' linked to Osama Bin Laden: Ten News
Allegedly Osama Bin Laden issued a "Fatwa" that was posted on an Islamic Website this morning. Osama Bin Laden's demands included visiting NSW prisoners' at the HRMU for Xmas!

Justice Denied In NSW Corrective Services
There used to be a (VJ) or Visiting Justice who would go into the prison and judge any claim or accusation that was made by any prisoner or prison guard. If it were found that a prisoner had offended then punishment was metered out.

Prison guards test positive for drugs
NSW prison visitors banned from using the toilet The visit is only for about one hour and any thing less than that is an insult. If it's proved that a visitor has broken the rules the punishment should apply to them. But collective punishment on all visitors should not be made general when others haven't broken the rules especially if it restricts all visitors from normal human needs like using a toilet.

NSW prison visitors banned from using the toilet
The New South Wales Government has introduced several initiatives to stop contraband getting into prisons they said last Friday. But under the guise of "stricter rules" the department had also introduced banning all visitors including children from using the toilet unless they terminate their visit at any NSW prison after using the toilet.

Carr Govt dramatic increases in the NSW prisoner pop...
Following the opening of the 500 bed Kempsey prison, and a new 200-bed prison for women at Windsor the Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS) and community organisations specialising in the rehabilitation of prisoners, have expressed concern....

The ALP's fascist police states
Welcome back Sid-in-knee. Old Falangist Samaranch would surely feel right at home in any number of fascist police states around this wide brown land today. Who needs Franco when you have Beattie, Rann, Carr, Bracks and co. Flamin' fascist fucks the lot of them.

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.

Doctor Ron Woodham I presume?
"Corrections Health staff provide medical care. However, its staff's authority is essentially limited to making recommendations to corrective services on treatment. Corrective services staff can then decide what treatment can be given."

Sentencing: Violent crime and practical outcomes
In addition introducing restorative justice programs giving the offender a chance to interact with the offended person if they wish and visa-versa. People are not "dogmatic" therefore should be given a second chance opposed to Life means Life!

Government justice not personal justice
Mr Brett Collins of Justice Action said, "Victims should be looked after properly by implementing restorative justice measures and victims should be compensated for their pain and suffering. " However prisoners are entitled to serve their sentences in peace and privacy as well."

You have choses Bob The Barbarian!
New laws to make it difficult for people charged with terrorism offences to get bail have been whisked through the New South Wales Parliament after only being introduced earlier today.

Conditions in the HRMU
Justice Action is trying to obtain documents on behalf of prisoners held in the Goulburn High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) from the Federal Attorney General's Department, Corrective Services Minister's Conference regarding the process described below, in which the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia were adopted. This documentation will help explain the justification for the conditions in the HRMU.

Call for royal commission into NSW prison health system
Mr Tony Ross a social justice activist said yesterday that a royal commission into the health system in NSW should be wide reaching to ensure that the Corrections Health Service is also exposed because of reported widespread cover ups in the prisons health system.

We the prisoners at the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre would like to ask you for help in receiving equal treatment and opportunities as other prisoners throughout the system. As we are told that we are not in a segregation unit but we are treated as though we are in one.

On the treatment of prisoners at the NSW HRMU
Prisoners sister's letter from her brother: Following our phone conversation some weeks ago I would like to set out a few points on the treatment of prisoners in the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn (Super Max) (Guantanamo Bay).

Review of Justice Ministers claims about conditions at HRMU
There is no fresh air in our cells only Air conditioning pumped out of an 8 x 8-centimetre vent over our beds. Conditions change with filthy moods of the prison guards. Induction clothing "one set" mostly shorts and a prisoner remains there for two weeks depending whatever suits the staff. If a prisoner shuts up about the abuse, and freezing conditions (Goulburn cold in winter hot in summer taking into account you're housed in concrete) then you may go to units 8 or 9.

Watchdogs slaughtered in NSW
On Tuesday the Carr Government reduced transparency and accountability yet again and New South Wales is in danger of becoming entrenched with cronyism and intimidations with the Carr Labor Government that continues to slaughter the watchdogs.

Escape proof but not so the prisoners mind
Fewer prisoners escape from prison these days because they're "cemented in" by materials that do not break and by legislation that can keep prisoners in jail until they die.

Carr's Castle the real story H.R.M.U.The High Risk Management Unit Goulburn Correctional Centre. A prisoner writes, " I was unsuccessful in my letters to Dr Matthews CEO of the Corrections Health Service on my problem regarding air - claustrophobic effect the cells have on me. Just recently the management decided my injuries are not seriously affecting me so no further discussions are necessary.