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View of life beyond bars

For Patrick, a seven-month stint in prison looked preferable to life on the street or the wet and mouldy tent he left as he came in contact with the justice system.

That was the point when he contacted the Mental Health Law Centre. The 47-year-old had a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and a 13-year history of contact with mental health services.

He had been managing his health with regular medication and living with his family before the accommodation he shared with his mother became unavailable and he found himself living in a tent at a caravan park.

At the same time, a change in medication saw his mental health degenerate and a commotion resulted in Patrick being taken to hospital for mental health assessment. It was there he pushed over a vending machine in frustration and was arrested and taken to Hakea Prison on remand awaiting a court trial.

With no legal representation, Patrick entered a plea of not guilty and told the Court he did not want bail as he had nowhere to live. His trial was listed some seven months later and he intended on staying in prison for that entire period – until the MHLC stepped in.

After contacting the centre for advice, Patrick instructed his lawyer to enter a plea of guilty. MHLC lawyers arranged for a court hearing at an earlier date. At the same time, they asked Ruah to work with Patrick to access supported accommodation in his area of choice, should he be released.

The MHLC represented Patrick in court and explained the circumstances of the offending and the potential of housing arranged by Ruah. As a result, Patrick was released from custody within two weeks of contacting MHLC with an $800 suspended fine.

This not only saved Patrick time in prison but resulted in an estimated saving of approximately $34,200 to the public prison system because Patrick was released 114 days prior to his original court date.

Patrick’s mental health improved, without the stress of pending criminal charges and being homeless. With Ruah’s assistance, he has stable accommodation and is saving to buy a car, which he hopes will be the stepping stone into employment and private rental accommodation to get his life back on track.

*Name changed to protect client privacy.