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News and media releases 2020

Corrective Services rises to mental health challenge

15 September 2020

Commissioner for Corrective Services, Tony Hassall, says a broad range of mental health services and programs are being delivered in WA prisons every day to manage the complex and challenging needs of people in custody.

Commissioner Hassall said the commitment was necessary given the prevalence of mental illness within prisons made the Department of Justice, Corrective Services one of the biggest mental health service providers in the State.

He was responding to claims made in a report about WA prisoners with disabilities by non-government organisation Human Rights Watch.

"There are about 800 prisoners with a priority-rated major mental illness, a cohort which includes some of the State’s most vulnerable, dangerous and high-risk individuals," Commissioner Hassall said.

"Significant resources and staff are devoted to the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners and major reforms are underway to enhance prevention and treatment across the custodial estate."

Mental health care and support is being provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses and Aboriginal mental health workers.

An extra 50 full-time equivalent positions dedicated to Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drugs (MHAOD) services have been added over the past three years.

There are specialised management units for at-risk prisoners to monitor their care, including hourly observations and 24-hour CCTV monitoring.

"Separate confinement is a management tool for the good order and security of a prison, as well as the safety of an individual prisoner, that is tightly controlled and done in accordance with legislation," Commissioner Hassall said.

An Aboriginal Elders program and peer support program are widely used across prisons to provide cultural and emotional support.

A ligature-minimisation program continues to be rolled out across the State’s prisons. Cells are fitted with duress alarms to hasten emergency responses.

Funding from the Mental Health Commission has provided forensic in-reach services which work with individuals to ensure a smooth transition from prison to the community.

The Department reviewed mental health services in 2019 and in February 2020 established the MHAOD Branch, bringing all relevant services under one structure. That includes prison support services, of which an Aboriginal visitors program is a part.

The branch is aimed at providing services in accordance with evidence-based best practice that are culturally sensitive, person centred, family sensitive, recovery focused and trauma informed.

The review’s 15 recommendations are being progressed and finalised in consultation with key stakeholders, including Aboriginal prisoners.

"The Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison dedicated to alcohol and other drug rehabilitation for women has been an outstanding success since opening two years ago," Commissioner Hassall said. An AOD rehabilitation unit for men opens at Casuarina Prison on October 1.

Planning is also underway to open a purpose-built mental health unit at Casuarina Prison by 2023.

A Suicide Prevention Taskforce announced by the Corrective Services Minister last month has been formed – with independent suicide prevention advocates included - and has begun meeting.

"The taskforce is focusing on how processes and systems can be improved to safeguard the welfare of at-risk prisoners," Commissioner Hassall said.

"This is an action-based taskforce which will be swiftly implementing recommendations in prisons while continuing its work."

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