Mental health issues lead to assault
Theft impulse lands woman in court
Man jailed over attempted cheque scam
Bail breach leads to jail
Mental health treatment gives offenders hope
I’ve lost count of the number of cases I’ve heard during my many hours in the Mount Gambier Courthouse that paint a brutally honest picture of the relationship between crime and poorly managed mental illness.
That’s not to say the defendant is always to blame for their unstable state of affairs. In some cases, offenders defy what those who have never had the misfortune of being mentally ill call common sense by trying to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Anybody can tell you that will end badly, particularly if that person is prone to hallucinations when they are experiencing an altered state of consciousness. But try telling that to somebody who just wants to escape from their own mind for five minutes so they don’t feel like ending it all.
In other cases, defendants are simply too poor to afford a doctor’s appointment. Their condition deteriorates because they can’t access the treatment they need. When you can’t reach what’s good for you, you end up with stuff that’s not-so-good. For those who wind up before a Magistrate, that’s petty crime.
Most Magistrates appreciate that the last thing the people fronting their court in these situations need is to be treated like criminals, and keep this in mind during sentencing. However, they are very limited in their ability to impose a rehabilitative measure like counseling, mostly because the services aren’t there for them to call on. So most of the time, the court has little option but to send the defendant back out into society without any more treatment than they walked in with. Surprise surprise, many of these defendants re-offend because their situations worsen.
If the perpetrator continues down this miserable path, either their criminal record or the severity of their offending warrants some sort of supervision order, which can include treatment for mental health issues.
However, what this does is create criminals and ruin lives.
The other, more desperate, scenario is those who require acute care. Although Mount Gambier has many mental health services other regional towns located over five hours away from the nearest capital city can only dream of, it is not yet equipped to properly manage acute mental health issues. Its hospital is being upgraded to include some such facilities, however as I understand it this is still some way away. The city has not been able to attract a permanent psychiatrist for some years now, and changes within what was the Limestone Coast Division of General Practice pre-2013 meant that it lost some of its experienced mental health staff.
As is illustrated in the story above, Limestone Coast residents with severe mental health issues have found themselves on the wrong side of the law when they have been trying to get help.
There have also been incidents in which they have lapsed into such a psychotic break, they have posed a serious - albeit unintentional - threat to themselves and everybody around them, including police.
The penalties they face for the magnitude of chaos that can follow are utterly devastating. However, these defendants have technically broken a law and caused harm to those the legislation is designed to protect. Therefore, the law enforcers they come before cannot simply excuse them.
South Australia’s law enforcers are collecting far too many of the wretched people overflowing from the state’s over-stretched mental health services, only because there is no other service to do it.
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. As is evident from the final article portrayed, there are services in Mount Gambier that are working for those fortunate enough to access them.
The state of the region’s mental health services, framed against this year’s cuts to the Better Access to Mental Health scheme.
The Limestone Coast was without a Drug and Alcohol treatment facility for many months during 2011 - 2012, a situation that was only rectified late last year.
During that time, countless defendants faced the Mount Gambier and Millicent Magistrates Court - and even the higher District Court jurisdiction - with offending allegedly spawned from out-of-control substance abuse.
It seemed incredible that the region was not being serviced by the amount of acute mental health and drug and alcohol experts it so clearly needed for such a long time. However, finding an answer turned out to take much longer than identifying the issue.
As is evident from the Drug Services Connect article, the South Australian government eventually made a move on the substance issue. How successful this has been so far, I am not sure.
Mental health service improvements are ongoing throughout the Limestone Coast.