Report on the review of forensic mental health and disability services within the Northern Territory

Criminal justice Youth justice Prisoner health Mental health Northern Territory

This report provides the findings of an expert, independent review of Northern Territory (NT) Health services provided to people in contact with the criminal justice system or within the youth justice system, who have a mental health problem or a cognitive impairment. It was commissioned by the Northern Territory Government on the authority of the NT Minister for Health and overseen by the NT Department of Health. It should be noted that at the time of the review the NT Minister for Health also concurrently held the role of the Northern Territory Attorney-General.

The review was not triggered by a single event. The review examines services to different groups of people related by a central experience of involvement with the criminal justice system. However, the individuals at the centre of this review may be receiving health care in a variety of settings, from different organisations, from different practitioners and have different legal frameworks influencing their care.

There were a number of tragic adverse events within the NT Health system as it interrelates with the legal system, in the preceding twelve months to the commissioning of this review. These events were subject to either judicial based enquiries, internal analysis or widespread media scrutiny. While the features of the cases involved differed in substantive ways, the fundamental relationship with some form of custodial order was a common theme. As a result, the Government has taken a proactive approach to examining its policy and service delivery approaches with a view to improving the overall system responses to people with mental illness and/or disability involved in the criminal justice system.

The review examined forensic mental health service delivery, forensic disability services, health services in youth justice detention, community mental health and disability services for people leaving the criminal justice system, relevant legislation and court processes and interfaces between these elements.

The Review made 21 recommendations, including:

  • The development of a service model that combines disability and mental health services
  • A review of the role of the Chief Psychiatrist
  • Clinical service planning for mental health services, including forensic services 
  • A discussion on the repurposing of the Complex Behaviour Unit (CBU) to a forensic facility catering for both mental health and disability presentations, and dual diagnosis.
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