A LARGE proportion of people appearing in NSW courts have mental health issues.
Recently released statistics show 60 per cent of prisoners have a recognised mental illness.
But the Albury region is missing out on an innovative and effective program to assist some of the community’s most vulnerable as quickly as possible with court appearances.
Funding for a community court liaison mental health nurse at Wagga was approved seven years ago by the previous Labor government.
The position was filled 5½ years ago by Jayne Ross, who provides magistrates with reports and treatment plans.
An adolescent mental health worker started at Wagga in January this year after funding was provided in March 2010.
Neither of these positions exist in Albury and resident magistrate Tony Murray believes the situation should be rectified.
“That is an obvious flaw here in Albury,” he said.
He recently returned to preside over the Albury court circuit after working at Wagga for more than three years.
Mr Murray spoke out about the deficiency in Albury following the recent campaign for a headspace centre for the Border.
His comments have been passed on to the member for Albury, Greg Aplin, who in turn contacted the NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith SC with a reply pending.
Mr Smith announced last week his government would carefully consider the NSW Law Reform Commission’s report on the diversion of people with cognitive and mental health impairments in the criminal justice system.
“People with mental impairments are over-represented in our courts and jails and the report’s recommendations aim to reduce their reoffending by ensuring their impairments are identified early and they have access to appropriate treatment and support,” he said.
Mr Murray, a magistrate for 17 years, says the programs and innovations provided by Ms Ross at Wagga are the most effective he has seen.
He said Ms Ross in some instances can provide reports or treatment plans on the same day as an offender appears.
“In my view, the procedures in dealing with mental health matters coming before the local court need to be reviewed,” Mr Murray said.
“The most vulnerable in our community are disproportionately represented in custody.”
At Wagga, vulnerable people are identified as quickly as possible.
Mr Murray says a major benefit is issues are recognised within hours of people being taken into custody.
Last year, 4114 matters went before courts on the Wagga circuit compared with 3527 on the Albury circuit.