Lived experience reflections relating to Legal and Justice Services

"This is exactly why I am a final year law student with lived experience of mental illness. I wish to fill this gap in educating police, lawyers and judicial officers on mental illness stereotypes, incorrect perceptions and bias in sentencing procedures for those who are affected by mental illness. 

Not everyone who has a mental illness and comes into contact with the justice system has adequate support, protections or explanations provided in a helpful and assisting manner. 

To put it succinctly, sometimes people do bad things that cannot be attributed to mental illness. I have seen and read many cases in the last year where I agreed with the way courts dealt with mental health aspects of criminal offending but have been horrified at the application of the law in some instances. It is scary. While courts can take a considered approach, quite often, when they are faced with a person with genuine mental illness an opportunity for treatment is missed and rather a focus on punishment is maintained throughout proceedings. 

The length of waiting for finalisation of court matters is absolutely excruciating. More mental health education and training is also needed for correctional officers. Prisons have somewhat become mental health hospitals. 

Then there is a cross-section of poor public perception as mental health defences are considered as ‘get out of jail for free’ cards and that people with mental health issues are a danger to society. This is frequently represented in the media. 

The use of police in emergency attendance for mental health crises is in dire need of trauma-informed care so police do not escalate issues. I could write a thesis on this area but many judicial officers need training on how to treat mental health issues and discussions in a sensitive manner, in front of their clients. I am not surprised by some of the high percentages of perceived stigma in the data."

– Aaron Fornarino, SANE Australia Peer Ambassador