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Push for services for mentally ill prisoners


Christopher Knaus

Artwork inside the visitors centre at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

Artwork inside the visitors centre at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

Gaps in mental health support for the ACT's prisoners are contributing to high rates of suicide, drug overdose and recidivism, advocates say.

The Mental Health Community Coalition ACT's budget submission has highlighted deficiencies in support for mentally ill prisoners being released from the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

The group estimates that up to 80 per cent of prisoners have a mental health issue, and describe the jail as Canberra's largest mental health facility.

Policy and sector development manager Simon Viereck said transitional support services for released prisoners are currently unable to cope with demand.

Mr Viereck said prisoners often felt ''isolation, hopelessness and despair'' in the weeks immediately after release, making them particularly vulnerable to self-harm and drug overdose.

The group has called on the ACT government to commit funds for transitional mental health services in this year's budget.

Mr Viereck said an injection of $1 million would help to substantially address the gaps.

He described that funding as an ''investment'', which would provide returns by lowering the economic and social costs of recidivist crime, drug use and suicide.

''We will continue to see those high rates, specifically with the AMC, unless we step in and support people through that transition period,'' he said.

The two key transitional services are currently provided by St Vincent de Paul and the Canberra Men's Centre. A host of other refuges and support organisations, which are not designed for former prisoners with mental health issues, are now picking up the slack, Mr Viereck said.

''There's been a lot of work done around the concept of through-care, which is about supporting people during their time in the prison, and that support carrying on afterwards,'' he said.

''In actual practice, there's still quite a long way to go.

''We do have some support there, but the need is quite clearly higher than the service capacity.''

The Mental Health Community Coalition is also calling for the ACT government to recommit funds to build a secure psychiatric unit.

Inmates with high clinical needs are currently being treated by ACT Forensic Mental Health Services, or placed in the 10-bed crisis support unit at the jail.

But Mr Viereck said that system was inadequate.

He has called on the government to recommit to the construction of a 15-bed secure mental health inpatient unit.

The ACT government had delayed construction of the unit last year, after costs blew out to $30 million.

''It is a substantial investment, there's no doubt about it,'' Mr Viereck said.

''But the question is whether the cost to the people who are not receiving the care at the moment, whether that outweighs it.

''The cost of not providing support, to the hospital system, to the justice system, and of course the personal cost to these people themselves, their families, and to the potential victims of another crime, that cost is very, very substantial.''

5 comments so far

  • The last place to look is ACT mental health. It is a bias inexperienced group with too many young up starts medicalizing everything. It does, however appear to now be guarded by some psych nurses who choose if you are to receive a doctor's opinion. One of their own fell victim even. For shame.

    Woden patient
    Date and time
    April 17, 2012, 7:15AM
    • I am really over whinging whining rabbiting patronising prisoner do gooders Mr Viereck.
      I understand prisoners will have these medical conditions and weaknesses but why are mine and thousands of others hard earned taxes continually thrown in these directions.
      An elderly person I know well has endured three weeks in Canberra Hospital following a broken hip and heart attack, while in rest and recovery at CH she was subject to two elderly women who sadly had a mental condition and clearly in the ward as it appeared there was no other option.
      Mr Viereck, why are these poor women not privvy to a facility and care that becomes their condition.
      And while we are on it Mr Viereck I see recently prisoner advocates calling for better tucker, why not swap the prisoner vs the patient food regime then watch the prisoners bark.

      Nitro Gangster
      Date and time
      April 17, 2012, 12:16PM
      • Psychiatry are drugging young people with their drugs,ultimately because they really want to to be the drug $ dealers, these young people who in the most, are in the difficult teenage years of their lives, trying to find identity, experimenting with alcohol and drugs, predominately with emotional and psychological concerns, etc, are very often experiencing temporary drug induced psychosis when they come into contact with mental health,where and when the answer is 99/100 cognitive help, maturation, and behavioral modification,instead their drugged with dangerous mind bending psychotropics, which are even worse than street drugs in their side effects,and are making all these kids, for the most, even more concerned, alienated more, and languid,

        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 3:38PM
        • 2/ When they try to escape these drugs and the horrible hopelessness that they're feeling from them, a chemical reaction happens, as it does going on, and coming off these debilitating poisons, and they get helplessly physically and mentally unwell, they are captured again , incarcerated, and are then made to start all over again, and are then, on their release put on injections that they can never escape from, i suspect that prisoners are being treated the same way and on release just like these helpless teenage victims need to escape the alienating poisons in their bodies, that again causes chemical imbalance sends them mad again, and in that not coping and despair turn back to crime in an association and identity sense, recidivism is always a chance for ex prisoners anyway, but now they're recidivists in real fear alienation and despair, so now its prisoners, our troubled teenagers, and next it is going to be the babies from two years of age, because psychiatry has apparently got a mental health crystal ball that can see whose going to be mad in the future.

          Date and time
          April 17, 2012, 3:45PM
          • Interesting article, I think everyone in society has a mental health issue, some more serious than others, the first mental health issue is to keep away from mental health, or you definitely "will" have an issue, the issuing of poison, being forced down your throat for a starter,especially if you get sucked in to the whole sick thing, mind you they can suck you into their forced chemicalising, whether you are clever or not, or whether you want it or not, so the trick there is,don't knock on their door, the second issue for people, prisoners also, is behavioral, ie; committing crimes, being mean to people, force drugging people etc, because thats going to give you bad karma, and bad karma gives you mental health issues, thats not mental illness, thats issues,(unless your a psychiatrist vested in the sick industry) issues can be emotional , psychological,circumstantial, situational, environmental, behaviours etc, A mental illness tag and a poison to practice mental is the last thing most people need, what most people with these problems need is a good teacher, and encouragement, they need to know they're ok and feel ok about themselves, not not ok, your sick, start practicing with this psychiatric philosophy, and this alienating mind bending poison, they need to be convinced that things can and will be ok if they follow some simple rules, they need a plan that will help them live a good and healthy life, not unhealthy drinking alcohol, on street drugs,or even worse psychotropic drugs, not coping in life, committing crimes to support their addictions, the whole flavor of mental health and its language is depressive, just remember if you believe your ok, 9/10 you are, and you will be, so will your thinking be, sick equals sick. ok equals ok.

            Date and time
            April 19, 2012, 12:15AM

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