An expansion of mental health support for people in, or at risk of entering, the criminal justice system will ultimately help to create safer communities, says Jesuit Social Services.

The Victorian Government has announced its 2017/18 Budget will provide $43.9 million in capital funding to expand Thomas Embling Hospital, and $28.6 million over four years to provide support to people at risk of entering the justice system, includingspecialist mental health support for young people aged 16 to 24 both in custody and in the community.

“The strong links between poor mental health and criminal behaviour are well known,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“Almost half (49%) of people who enter prison have a diagnosed mental illness, and around the same percentage of people in prison have experienced two or more forms of disadvantage such as drug and alcohol problems or homelessness which can exacerbate an existing mental illness.”

Ms Edwards says that by offering additional support for people with mental health problems at risk of offending, the Victorian Government can work to prevent crime before it occurs.

“We all want safe and cohesive communities where all members have the opportunity to flourish – and supporting people before they reach the acute end of our health and criminal justice systems is the best way to achieve this.”

In its recent submission to Infrastructure Victoria’s draft 30-year infrastructure strategy, Jesuit Social Services called for ongoing investment to strengthen mental health support in the community, a better integration of mental health, housing and employment services and co-ordinated support for people with co-occurring mental health and drug and alcohol problems.

“These important announcements by the Government ahead of the 2017/18 Budget will go a long way to identifying people in the community who need support, and providing holistic support for high-risk people with complex needs who are involved in the justice system,” says Ms Edwards.

“We also welcome funding of an after-hours mental health service to provide bail hearing support to people at risk of harm to themselves or others.

“The best way to create safer communities is to prevent crime from happening in the first place – and these vital investments will help to achieve this.”

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