A person with a mental health impairment or a cognitive impairment who commits a serious crime will usually be detained in a secure mental health facility. In NSW, some of these units – such as the Long Bay Prison Hospital in Sydney – are within a jail. If these cannot offer the right treatment, or if the accused does not agree to treatment, detention will usually be in prison.
What are forensic patients?
A person detained after a special verdict of “act proven but not criminally responsible” or after being found unfit to be tried, or after being given a ‘limiting term’ in a special hearing is referred to as a ‘forensic patient’ rather than a prisoner – whether they are in a mental health facility or in prison. This recognises that mental health impairment or cognitive impairment played a role in their detention and that they require ongoing treatment and care.
The MHRT reviews forensic patients every six months. It assesses their condition, their treatment, whether the detention facility is still appropriate (or if they should be moved, for example, from maximum to medium security), and if they are ready to be granted any leave.
Forensic patients will remain in detention until the MHRT finds they are no longer a serious threat to themselves or anyone else in the community.
When they are released from detention, it is almost always with conditions attached, including that they are linked to their local community mental health service for a regular review by a case manager and psychiatrist. The MHRT can also impose conditions relating to accommodation, enrolment in programs, drug and alcohol bans, and restrictions on travel and associating with particular people.
If you made a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) the MHRT has to take it into account when considering any application by a forensic patient for leave or to be released. If the MHRT agrees, you can update your statement while the forensic patient is in detention.
Specialist Victims Register
There is a register of victims of crime committed by someone with a mental illness or incapacity who becomes a forensic patient. Family members of victims who died as the result of crime can also be on the register – which is called the Specialist Victims Register. Registered members can:
- be notified about MHRT hearing dates and outcomes (and can attend MHRT hearings, as can members of the public)
- ask for restrictions on whom the forensic patient can contact and where they can visit if they are granted leave from detention or released
- ask to be told if the forensic patient is to be released, escapes, or is detained again after being released.
The Specialist Victims Support Service, which is part of Victims Services, maintains the register. This specialist service also provides a range of support to victims or crime involving mental illness or impairment. For more information on these services and the victims register, see the Victims Services website or ring 1800 633 063.