Attempt to fix injustice has been flawed but noble Editorial | The West Australian January 21, 2016, 1:04 pm
Part of the disability justice centre. Picture: Bill Hatto The West Australian t is one of the most unfortunate realities of public life that trying to do the right thing can be much more difficult than allowing an injustice to continue. Such is the case with Disability Services Minister Helen Morton’s flawed attempt to correct the blight on WA’s justice system that has seen mentally impaired people languishing in jail for decades without being convicted of the crimes alleged against them.
Government after government has presided over inhumane treatment of intellectually disabled prisoners who are deemed by the courts to be mentally unfit to stand trial but, despite the evidence against them not being tested, seen to be a potential risk to the community.
In those circumstances, the law dictates that they must be held in prison unless a “declared place” suitable for their needs is available. Such a place was never provided until now.
Escapee gives centre 'unfortunate image' https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/wa/a/30494597/escapes-give-centre-unfortunate-image/
Justice centre worries linger https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/wa/a/30503307/justice-centre-worries-linger/
Lockridge escapees prompt meeting https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/wa/a/30484523/lockridge-centre-escapes-prompt-meeting/
Escapees had gone AWOL before https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/wa/a/30488652/escapees-had-gone-awol-before/
In 2011, this newspaper highlighted the plight of a young man named Marlon Noble, who had spent almost 10 years in jail having never been convicted.
Mr Noble was cognitively impaired and had been found by the court system to be mentally unfit to stand trial on sexual offences.
Tireless work by a retired social worker and pro bono lawyer brought his plight to public attention. His alleged victims declared they did not want him in jail. He was released, albeit on conditions.
The Noble case put a face to numerous recommendations that the system needed at least two reforms: a declared place should be built and the law should be changed so that an untried mentally impaired person would not be incarcerated any longer than if he or she had been convicted and sentenced for the offences.
The latter was in the power of then Attorney-General Christian Porter to change. His failure to do so is a black mark on his legacy and should be rectified.
While her colleagues have been blissfully unaffected by their lack of law reform, Mrs Morton has come under pressure for a poor execution of providing the Bennett Brook Disability Justice Centre.
Local residents’ fears and concerns were exacerbated on New Year’s Eve when two residents escaped.
A review being conducted by retired judge Peter Blaxell and university professor Colleen Hayward is welcome and should not be constricted by time or parameters, should they request an extension of either.
Hopefully their experience and wisdom will improve the outcomes for all involved, including the worried residents.
It would be simpler to leave disabled people languishing indefinitely in jail.
But it would be the wrong thing to do.