Evaluation of NSW court liaison services                

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Release date: 3 September 2009
The State-wide Community and Court Liaison Service (SCCLS) reduces the frequency with which people with a mental health problem come into contact with the court system, a new study has found.

This is one of the key findings to emerge from an evaluation of services designed to assist the courts in dealing with adults and adolescents who have a mental health problem.

The NSW Government established the SCCLS in 1999 in response to the high rates of mental illness among prisoners. In 2006 a comparable service was established for adolescents with mental health problems.

To evaluate the SCCLS, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research compared a group of defendants with a mental health problem who were referred to the SCCLS in 2004-2005 with a control group consisting of defendants who had a mental health problem and whose cases were dealt with in 2004 or 2005 at a court where the SCCLS was not available.

Comparisons were also made for both groups before (pre-period) and after (post-period) the date on which their case was dealt with under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act.

The comparison revealed a significant decrease in court appearances from the pre-period to the post-period for the SCCLS group but not for the control group.

To measure satisfaction with the liaison services in both the adult and adolescent domains, interviews were undertaken with a wide range of individuals and groups directly involved in dealing with persons with a mental health problem who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Those surveyed included staff from the SCCLS, Local Court Magistrates, court registrars, the Legal Aid Commission, the Aboriginal Legal Service, NSW Health, NSW Police Force and the Department of Corrective Services (DCS), staff from the Justice Health Adolescent Court and Community Team, Children's Court magistrates and staff from the Department of Juvenile justice.

The majority of those interviewed felt that the impact of both services had been positive and were effective in assisting the court with mental health matters, however a number of recommendations were made for improvement.

The recommendations included expanding the service, increasing the provision of education and training on mental health matters and increasing awareness of the services amongst relevant groups through further advertising of the services.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said it was difficult in a study of this type to draw strong conclusions but the overall findings suggest that the SCCLS slows or reduces contact with the court system by defendants with a mental illness.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408