Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Psychiatrists hail hospital opening as milest -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Reporter: Lucy McNally

ELEANOR HALL: Psychiatrists are hailing it as a milestone for mental health policy.

Tomorrow a psychiatric hospital will open at Long Bay jail to treat more than 100 prisoners whose
psychiatric problems have made them either unfit to enter a plea or meant that they were found not
guilty on the grounds of mental illness.

Until now these people have been held in designated wards at Long Bay jail.

But while mental health professionals are applauding their imminent move to the new hospital, some
of those responsible for guarding the prisoners at the moment are not impressed.

Lucy McNally has more.

LUCY MCNALLY: Mental illness is rife in the prison system.

The last prison health survey showed it affects half of all women in jail, and 35 per cent of men.
And that's just those who've been diagnosed.

Prison researcher at the University of New South Wales, Professor Eileen Baldry describes the case
of one inmate Jim whose name has been changed to protect his identity.

She says Jim - a schizophrenic now in his thirties - has spent the last decade in and out of jail.

EILEEN BALDRY: He first came into contact with the criminal justice system in his late teenage
years. He was incarcerated for offences which were related to getting his drugs.

LUCY MCNALLY: Professor Baldy says while in jail, his treatment is often inadequate.

The State Government says that won't be the case for the 135 patients who'll be housed in the new
hospital opening at Long Bay.

The $86-million building is for forensic patients - people who've been acquitted of crimes because
of mental illness.

Their future is determined by psychiatrists in jail and ultimately by the Mental Health Review
Tribunal, presided over by Greg James.

GREG JAMES: We make decisions including on whether patients should have electro-convulsive therapy
and whether forensic patients, should be detained in jail or removed to a secure hospital.

LUCY MCNALLY: But for years, experts have called for things to be done differently.

They say criminals with mental illnesses should be treated like the rest of the sick - in a
hospital run by health professionals - not a jail run by prison guards.

Dr James says it's been happening in other parts of the world for some time.

GREG JAMES: Throughout the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland and so forth. Just as you
wouldn't keep someone in a jail for an appendix operation if they grew sick, you don't keep someone
in a jail for mental health treatment.

LUCY MCNALLY: Research from the University of London shows these hospitals reduce readmission
rates, reoffending and the chance of self harm.

In Australia, Victoria set the example, when the Thomas Embling Hospital opened in 2000.

A year later, the Department of Justice Health in New South Wales put a proposal to the Government
for a similar hospital to be built at Long Bay.

But not everyone agrees with the new system.

Stuart Little from the Public Service Association represents prison guards. He questions whether
security at the new facility will be adequate.

STUART LITTLE: The reality is that you've got some very dangerous and violent offenders who'll be
located in this forensic hospital and I think there are no better qualified or trained people to
provide security for the health staff than prison officers.

LUCY MCNALLY: He says the hospital started operating two months ago and there's already been an
assault on a doctor.

STUART LITTLE: The offender walked back out into the main sort of yard. My understanding is there
were a number of health staff locking themselves into offices and obviously that's a situation that
is dangerous. I just hope and pray that it doesn't take for a very serious incident to occur before
some reality sets in and we have appropriately qualified and trained prison officers on site.

LUCY MCNALLY: But the chief executive of Justice Health, Julie Babineau is confident security will
be tight.

JULIE BABINEAU: We made sure that the design was an appropriate design for a model where the
internal security was done by clinical staff. So in a nutshell what that would mean an example is
that when you're standing in one area of the nursing station you can see all of the areas from the
centre of the ward or the unit.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Julie Babineau, the head of Justice Health New South Wales ending that report
by Lucy McNally.