A lot of the times they (the mentally ill) are held in custody when they should really be in hospital.
A lot of the times they (the mentally ill) are held in custody when they should really be in hospital. Adam Hourigan

Magistrate: It's mental

THE Clarence Valley has less than half a full-time equivalent psychiatrist position servicing the area, and no acute mental health facility, as mentally ill offenders end up in jail instead of proper care.

Grafton and Maclean magistrate Kim Pogson is calling for a full-time mental health facility to be established in the Clarence Valley to better care for mentally ill people and prevent them from ending up in jail.

Mr Pogson also outlined a massive waste of police res-ources as offenders who had to be assessed for mental illness were driven under police guard to Lismore or Coffs Harbour for assessment.

“You refer them off for an assessment under Section 33 of the Mental Health Act to see if there is in fact a mental health issue.

“Then they’re in police custody and they in fact remain in police custody until in fact that assessment has been done,” Mr Pogson said.

“...depending on the state of mental services down there they could be there at 4pm in the afternoon and they can’t deal with it until the next morning.

“Now he’s still in police custody. They have to stand guard over him until the assessment is done and then bring him back.”

Mr Pogson said some mentally ill people had ended up in jail due to a lack of proper facilities in the area.

“You shouldn’t have mentally ill people in jail. Just not the place for them,” Mr Pogson said.

“You must determine what’s best for the protection of the community, too.

“If you have a mentally ill person in the community running around committing offences, the best place for them is in the hospital.

“But if there is no hospital, unfortunately that (jail) is where they’ve got to go.

“There are clearly people who I’ve had before me, if you look at the facts and their background, and clearly there is a mental health issue. And yet a lot of the time they are held in custody when they should really be in hospital.

“Now whether that’s areflection that there’s no space in hospitals, I don’t know. It’s very difficult. I mean the number of mentally ill, it’s a growing problem and yet it seems the facilities just aren’t there.”

Mr Pogson’s statements concurred with a recent press release from the Mental Health Council of Australia, which stated jail exacerbated mental illness for sufferers, making the system counterproductive.

A North Coast Area Health Service spokeswoman said there were no plans to establish a mental health facility in the Clarence Valley.

The spokeswoman outlined the services that doexist on the North Coast,including the Mental Health Acute Care Service which, she said, was available in Grafton daily.

But this service, the spokeswoman said, was not able to be used for assessing offenders because it was not a ‘declared mental health facility’ – a requirement of the Mental Health Act.

State Clarence MP Steve Cansdell joined the call for a Clarence Valley mental health facility, saying mental health was the biggest health issue in the area.

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