Who will live in the centre?
The centre accommodates no more than 10 people. The residents are people who have been accused but not convicted of a crime and have been deemed by a court as unfit to plead to the charges because of their disability. This decision means that these people are considered to be mentally impaired accused.
Western Australia’s Mentally Impaired Accused Review Board is responsible for reviewing the cases of people the courts have deemed to be mentally impaired accused. In dealing with people who are mentally impaired accused because of their disability, the Board can consider three options. These are to release the person, keep them in prison or recommend that they become a resident of the disability justice centre.
In deciding whether someone can live at the disability justice centre, the Board will consider a range of factors, including whether that person is suitable to live in a community setting. People who the Board believes to be dangerous or who pose a threat to the community will remain in prison.
The Board submits its recommendations to the Minister for Disability Services and the Minister has the final say on who lives in the centre.
What does it mean to be ‘mentally impaired accused’?
The term ‘mentally impaired accused’ is used for people who have been charged with an offence but deemed by the Court as unfit to plead to the charges because of disability or mental illness.
Although the term mentally impaired accused applies to both disability and mental illness, only people whose primary diagnosis is intellectual or cognitive disability, autism, or who have an acquired brain injury can live in the disability justice centre. These people might also have a mental illness, as a secondary issue, that is treated or managed through the mental health system, but is not the cause of the offending.
People whose primary diagnosis is mental illness are referred to an authorised hospital that provides mental health services in a secure setting. These people will not be eligible to live in the disability justice centre.
Why do we need a disability justice centre?
The disability justice centre addresses a long-standing social justice issue in our Western Australian community. Until now, people who are accused of a crime but, because of their disability are unable to plead, can remain in prison for an indefinite period. This is not a suitable or decent way to treat vulnerable members of our community who need appropriate care and supervision.
The State Government has addressed this issue by using an option that has always been available under the law. That is, housing this small group of people with disability who have been accused but not convicted of a crime at what is known as a ‘declared place’. In this instance the declared place is the newly built Bennett Brook Disability Justice Centre.
How will the centre be staffed and by whom?
The Disability Services Commission has decades of experience working with people with disability and it is Commission staff that work in the centre.
The staff have appropriate specialist skills and experience. They have expertise working with people with disability, including those with challenging behaviours. Training has been provided to staff on specific management practices required when working at the centre.
Staffing will be based on the needs of the individuals living in the centre. This means staffing will vary depending on who will be living there. For example, some residents might have higher support needs than others. Appropriate staffing numbers are detailed in the centre’s operational plans.
Can residents leave the centre whenever they want?
No, they cannot. Any departure from the centre is carefully considered and assessed. Approval for supervised and supported leaves of absence, including their frequency, duration and purpose has to be granted by the Mentally Impaired Accused Review Board (Board), as currently happens for people who are residing in prison under the Criminal Law (Mentally Impaired Accused) Act 1996.
The Board will also determine and approve the level of support each person requires when undertaking a leave of absence and may also set conditions that need to be met.
A leave of absence program may be designed as part of a graduated release plan to help residents learn life skills that will help them in their eventual return to the community – like how to do their banking, catch a bus, visit a doctor or go to work.
Is the disability justice centre a prison?
The disability justice centre is not a prison. Residents are not living at the centre because they have been convicted of a crime.
The centre is a community-based secure environment but it operates as its own community with specialist disability-related services delivered by specialist staff.
What is the level of security at the disability justice centre and is it appropriate for the safety of the community and the residents who live there?
The behaviour of centre residents does not currently align with community expectations and standards. This is why the Mentally Impaired Accused Review Board (Board) has decided not to release them back to the community just yet.
The Board does not, however, consider that the residents present a significant risk to the community and therefore there is no requirement for them to remain in prison.
In these instances the Board has elected that this small group of people live in the disability justice centre for a period of time. The level of security in place at the centre will reflect this balanced assessment.
The security features will be sufficient to protect community, staff and resident wellbeing, while ensuring the facility blends with its community setting.
The security features will be subtle and effective and include:
- restricted access to buildings
- entry through a single reception area
- lockdown capacity for rooms and larger areas
- monitored CCTV
- perimeter and internal fencing and linkages between buildings
- highly-trained staff
- swipe cards for door access
- comprehensive security policies protocols.
People who are deemed mentally impaired accused due to mental illness will not be able to live at the disability justice centre.
People found by a court to be mentally impaired accused due to mental illness that is capable of being treated (such as schizophrenia) will be detained at an authorised hospital – not the disability justice centre. Only people who are mentally impaired accused because of their intellectual or cognitive disability, autism or acquired brain injury will be able to live there. This is because people with mental illness and people with disability have different support needs. For people with mental illness, an authorised hospital can best provide appropriate care and support. For people with disability, this care and support is best provided through the disability justice centre.
A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. It is diagnosed according to standardised criteria. Mental illnesses can be of different types and degrees of severity. Some of the major types include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders and eating disorders.
Additional resources and information
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Disability Justice Centre questions and answers - print version
Disability Justice Centre questions and answers - print version