Mental health programs giving offenders second chance

  • Start Court and Links have provided vital mental health services for 10 years
  • Programs give adult and youth offenders access to supports and treatment
  • Thousands benefit through improved mental health outcomes, reducing reoffending

Two innovative programs have marked a decade of helping people, who come before the courts, with mental health issues to turn their lives around.

The Start Court for adults and Links program in the Perth Children’s Court have supported thousands of individuals during their 10 years of operation.

Both provide critical services that address underlying causes of offending behaviour, to assist individuals with improving their mental health and reduce the risk of further contact with the criminal justice system.

The Start Court is a voluntary program for offenders who enter a guilty plea and combines access to supports and services for mental health and drug and alcohol use, if required.

Participants are helped by a team that includes a Magistrate, mental health clinicians, community support coordinators, peer support workers, lawyers, police and Adult Community Corrections personnel.

There has been 3,302 referrals to the Start Court by May 2023, of which 1,660 individuals entered an assessment phase and 894 joined the program. During that period, 510 people completed the full program, which takes up to six months.

All of those referred to the Court are offered support and access to mental health services.

At the Children’s Court the Links team assesses and refers young people with mental health issues to community support and specialist services, providing access to treatment and consideration of alternative sentencing options.

The team has provided advice, assessment or assistance in response to 3,595 referrals over the past decade. An evaluation of the program found that over three years to June 2022, 81 per cent of young people case-managed by Links experienced improved mental health outcomes and 85 per cent demonstrated reduced risk of self-harm or harm to others.

Both programs are partnerships between the Department of Justice and the Mental Health Commission, with support from the Department of Health, service provider Outcare and other agencies.

As stated by Attorney General John Quigley:

“Start Court and Links were established after it was found traditional methods of sentencing had little impact on people with mental health conditions.

“These programs are providing invaluable services that make our community safer by getting people the support they need and reducing recidivism.

“There have been many success stories over the past decade of individuals being assisted to improve their mental health, quality of life and employment prospects.

“I’m proud that under our Government both of these programs have been moved from pilot status to becoming continuous fixtures in the justice system.”

As stated by Health; Mental Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson:

“The Start Court provides holistic care to clients under a service model that is unique to WA.

“Instead of traditional court processes, the program provides a series of individualised services for both the participants and their families.

“We have seen encouraging outcomes from tailored interventions, with significant rates of improved mental health outcomes and reduced risk of alcohol and other drug use, self-harm and aggression.”

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