Chapter 6 Section A: Overview
Most people during their lifetime, including people diagnosed with mental health conditions, have no or very infrequent contact with the criminal justice system (that is, the police, criminal courts, prisons, probation and parole).
A person may have contact with the criminal justice system as a person charged with having committed a crime, or as a friend or relative of someone charged with committing a crime, or as a victim of crime. People also may come in contact with the police and then sometimes the criminal courts if they are a witness in a criminal case.
However, if you are a person with mental health condition you are more likely than a person who does not have a mental health condition to come into contact with the criminal justice system. This is reflected in the over-representation of people with mental illness in NSW prisons.
It is well recognised, both in Australia and internationally, that poor mental health is more prevalent among prisoners than the general population and that substance abuse disorders are particularly widespread among prisoners. These co-existing difficulties have been found to increase the likelihood of criminal reoffending. Such strong evidence has led to renewed government focus on improving mental health services for people in prison, as well as after release (with the intention of reducing reoffending) by treating substance dependence and other mental disorders.
People with mental health conditions are often physically and emotionally vulnerable, and are therefore also more likely to be victims of crime.
Nevertheless, the majority of people with a mental health condition won't ever have contact with the criminal justice system. And people with a mental health condition are no more likely to commit crimes than people without these conditions.
People with mental health conditions are often stereotyped as dangerous or not to be trusted, and stigmatised as having no control over themselves, and as reluctant to listen to health professionals, even when the treatment offered results in negative health, personal and social impacts. These stereotypes should always be challenged, including through education programs for people working with consumers as well as those working in the criminal justice system.This chapter of the Manual is written for those people with mental health conditions who come into contact with some part of the criminal justice system, particularly if they are charged with having committed a crime or have been the victim of a crime.
In this chapter of the Manual, you can find out more about:
- Role and powers of the police
- Criminal cases in the courts
- Mental illness and prisons
- Victims of crime
This chapter of the Manual is not a general guide to the criminal justice system. Rather, it provides information about the rights of people with mental health illness in that system and the particular ways in which the criminal justice system deals with mental illness.
Click here for more general information about the criminal justice system. You can obtain information about the Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC) at a public library.