POLICE would be given extra powers to arrest and detain mentally ill “forensic patients” under a new policy set to be considered by NSW Cabinet in coming weeks.
Forensic patients are individuals who have been found not guilty of crimes for mental health reasons, and many of them are killers or rapists.
Mental Health Minister Tanya Davies last night told The Daily Telegraph the government was finalising a proposal that would allow police to detain forensic patients who had breached their leave conditions without first getting an order from the Mental Health Review Tribunal.
Under existing policy, authorities have to obtain an order from the highly secretive tribunal before apprehending a patient who has breached their leave conditions. Orders can sometimes take up to 24 hours.
The move comes after The Telegraph revealed exclusively on Saturday that the tribunal was secretly releasing forensic patients into the community even when they were still rated at “high risk” of reoffending.
In one case a man who killed his ex-partner while their seven-year-old daughter was home was moved to a nursing home by the tribunal, where he violently attacked staff and patients.
Figures obtained by The Telegraph show 26 patients breached their leave conditions last year, some of them more than once.
Both Ms Davies and Attorney-General Mark Speakman have ordered internal inquiries following the launch on Saturday of The Telegraph’s campaign to change the Mental Health Act and ensure the tribunal becomes more transparent.
Ms Davies said the new policy would allow absconded patients to be apprehended “immediately”.
“This will streamline the process, which can currently take up to 24 hours, giving police and the medical professionals powers to act immediately and avoid unnecessary delays apprehending patients,” Ms Davies said.
Mental Health Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan said while community safety needed to be made a priority, the proportion of people with mental illness problems who were violent was very small.
“Research shows people who are mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of violence than they are perpetrators,” Mr Quinlan said. “It’s important when we have these conversations we don’t stigmatise mental illness.”
Under the Mental Health Act, it is a criminal offence to publish the name of anyone who relates to a tribunal case, including the families of victims who have been killed or sexually attacked.
Victims’ families who spoke about their concerns at the tribunal’s lack of transparency said they feared community safety was not being prioritised by tribunal decisions.
This piece was orginally posted on ‘The Daily Telegraph’ April 3, 2017.