A new mental health unit has opened its doors to house inmates found not guilty due to mental incompetence.
A 10-bed facility at Oakden in Adelaide’s north-east is the first of its type in South Australia.
“[We teach] skills like cooking, shopping, budgeting. I think we find a lot of people in James Nash House don’t have those skills, it’s a very contained environment,” she said.
Ashton House is for ‘forensic’ patients, those found to have been mentally incompetent at the time of their offence.
They may have suffered a psychosis or have an intellectual disability.
Chief psychiatrist Peter Tyllis said in South Australia there were about 300 such patients, most in the community on licence.
“We actually move away from an institutional model where people are cared for in a more normalised environment,” he said of the new facility
Inmates need court approval to move to Ashton House, where security includes surveillance and an infrared perimeter beam.
Until now there had been only 40 dedicated beds for forensic patients at James Nash House and Glenside Hospital.
An advocate for the mentally ill said forensic patients had been accommodated in other mental health beds.
Maurice Corcoran of the Community Visitor Scheme said it had meant new mental health patients had to wait days in hospital emergency departments as they sought admission.
“With the new buildings happening at James Nash as well, which will take it up to 60, I think that’s going to have a real significant impact on the other demands,” he said.
The Community Visitor Scheme said about one quarter of forensic patients had a disability.
It urged the SA Government to look closely at providing a discrete specialised unit for such a vulnerable group.
The Government said it was looking at better ways to offer care.
This article first appeared on the ABC Online on 1 November, 2013.