A specialist court will be set up to deal with mentally ill offenders under a $5 million, two-year project designed to divert people away from prison and into treatment.
Details of the project, which is based on recommendations made by the WA Law Reform Commission three years ago and will operate along similar lines to the successful drug court, will be revealed by Mental Health Minister Helen Morton today. The court diversion project includes a dedicated, full-time magistrate at the Perth Magistrate's Court and a support team of professionals who will provide assessment, treatment and liaison with community mental health services.
It is expected to be running early next year and will cater for up to 300 people a year.
Participation in the court will be voluntary and a range of factors including the nature of offending, the particular mental illness, risks to community safety and victims will be taken into account in determining an offender's suitability for the court.
Mrs Morton will also announce $1.7 million for mental health experts at the Perth Children's Court for a pilot early intervention program.
She said it was essential to identify young offenders early and identify appropriate services.
"Too often, these people are inappropriately and expensively caught up in the criminal justice system when they should be receiving effective mental health care," Mrs Morton said.
"Traditional methods of sentencing have little impact on people with mental illness and often fail to address the cause of the offending."
Attorney-General Christian Porter said about 3600 adults who came before metropolitan magistrates' courts each year had a mental illness.
"This program will complement existing services and fill a gap that is not currently met," Mr Porter said.
Greens MP and spokeswoman for mental health Alison Xamon, who has been lobbying for the specialist court, welcomed the project. But she was concerned that some people facing multiple issues would fall through the cracks of the specialist court and mentally ill offenders in regional areas would not be included in the project.
"Also, these courts are only successful when you ensure that the follow-up services are there," Ms Xamon said.
WA Law Society president Christopher Kendall said mental health courts were internationally recognised as an exceptional way to address mental health problems.