Treatment Not Punishment

I have spoken before about the events that lead to me spending 2 months in prison.  It was one of the lowest points mentally in my life, I was desperate.  It was surreal and I was scared.  A couple of the police officers on the scene insisted I be taken to hospital, a detective disagreed.  The officers in the watch house continued to try to contact the crisis team but they had made the decision that I wasn’t unwell enough.  I had just attempted to commit a crime, but I wasn’t unwell in their eyes.

According to an interview with the Mental Health Commission last year, 38% of the prisoners that were in the system at that time had a mental illness.  They allege that one in three prisoners with a mental illness have been in prison five times or more.  I am so glad that I am not part of that statistic.  However there were women I had met while in prison who had served multiple prison sentences.  Some bouncing between a nearby forensic psychiatric unit and the prison system.

I was placed in a special unit within the jail for the prisoners who suffered from a mental illness.  There were a lot of rules in place, as is to be expected in a prison setting, both for the safety of the prisoners and prison officers.  We slept in heavy canvas gowns, with the lights on, so many lights.

Even though I was in a designated unit for people with a mental illness, the only thing different about it was the amount of prison officers we had.  There was little treatment for mental illness, only a couple of psychiatrists to cover the large prison community.  Admission of self harm urges or suicidal ideation resulted in being placed in isolation.  After an episode of self harm my blankets were taken for the night and I had to sleep on my back with my arms by my side.  It was the middle of winter.

A prison is no place for the mentally ill.  A prison is not a place for treatment of the mentally ill.  A prison is a place of punishment not growth.  A lot of the mentally ill are homeless, they see prison as a warm place to sleep, somewhere that is safer than the life they have on the streets.

The government is cutting back on services for the mentally ill.  They are closing secure wards and the flow on effect sees the mentally ill filling the prison systems.  The report by the Mental Health Commission found that the police force detain, on average, one mentally ill person every 2 hours.  Most of these people will be turned away from inpatient services because there is simply no beds.

The rate of mentally ill people in prisons is too high.  There needs to be more secure mental health facilities, with treatment as their focus instead of punishment.  Something needs to help stop the cycle.

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20 thoughts on “Treatment Not Punishment

  1. JM Peace

    I am a police officer and it made me sad to read your post. I completely agree with you. Sufferers of mental illness rarely seem to get the help they need. I can’t begin to explain all of the pressures and misconceptions police have to deal with in these situations in just a little comment here. But I sincerely wish you all the best on your journey.

    Reply
  2. Vanessa

    This sort of stuff by governments makes me furious. Even if all they want to give a shit about is money, can’t they see that this will only cost them more long term?!

    i wish I knew what to do. I’m sick of the government attacking the vulnerable and complaining of entitlement.

    Reply
  3. EssentiallyJess

    They punished you for self harm? Did they think that would help, and that you were doing it for attention?
    And isolation for suicide attempts? Why because putting people on their own makes them want to live?
    What a backwards idea!
    I’m so sorry you had to go through any of this Tegan. This is just heartbreaking.

    Reply
  4. Bec @ The Plumbette

    Tegan, I can’t believe they took your blankets away after self harming yourself!! This is so wrong. I’m so glad you have come through it to tell us what it’s like on the other side. I honestly had no idea.

    Reply
  5. Tracey Pedersen

    That’s a fascinating insight into how the prison system works. Thanks for being brave enough to share with us! No more joking about wanting to go to prison to get a bit of a rest!

    Reply
  6. kirsty

    WOW, Tegan, I am at a loss for words…….reading the title of this post I thought I was in for another funny parenting story, you are so, so brave for telling it how it is about how you cope with any of this, I just want to wrap you under my wings and make it all go away XXXXX

    Reply
  7. SarahD @SnippetsandSpirits

    You are amazing Teagn ! You speak the truth bravely and with conviction. It is scary reading this and realising again how the government is disadvantaging the vulnerable adding to the mental health stigma that people just cannot understand. !

    Reply
  8. Twitchy Sharon (@twitchycorner)

    I don’t even know what to say. The ideal evolution is for human beings to keep evolving and become more empathetic but I don’t see much of that in the direction this country’s headed. Thanks for explaining the prison over-crowding issue a bit further for me.

    Reply
  9. Ian Knabel

    While your story saddens me unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me

    Thanks for sharing publicly your story because I think it is only by getting mental health issues into the public arena that we can create enough “noise” and make politicians realize they are dealing with people’s life’s

    Reply
  10. Lisa Barton-Collins

    I am continually horrified that this government and so many previous governments treat mental illness with so little regard. I can’t understand why they don’t get it – treating people with the medical help they need results in a more healthy community, reduced medical costs and reduced prison costs. It’s just so dumb. I’m so sorry you had to go through this.
    xx

    Reply
  11. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    I can’t imagine sleeping with lights on, that’s torture in itself! And no blankets – sounds horrific T – it must have really been such a sad time for you 🙁 The government needs to spend a week in a person’s shoe before they make stupid policies x

    Reply
  12. Kris

    So glad you’re here to tell your story and raise awareness, thanks for being brave that’s not an easy breezy tale to tell. Keep on spreading the word x

    Reply
  13. Holly

    I am a psychologist in a prison and I could not agree more. Our mental health systems are flawed and so many people end up in prison instead as it becomes the last resort when the support is not there. Very sad!

    Reply
  14. Alison

    Another brave and beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your perspective with so much courage and kindness.

    Reply
  15. Narelle

    Tegan, I love that you are able to speak about your experiences so openly. You must be one strong and resilient woman to get through the other side of all that. I’m not sure if I could.

    Reply

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