Western Australia’s population has increased by over 700,000 since the opening of the Frankland Centre in 1993, and the prison population has increased almost threefold (from 1800 to 5000). However the number of forensic beds has remained static.
This results in Western Australia having only 1.7 acute forensic psychiatric beds per 100,000 people. This is significantly fewer than New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania. Western Australia also has fewer sub-acute beds than New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia.
While Western Australia rates poorly compared to other Australian states, Australia as a whole rates poorly compared to other comparable countries. For example, England and Wales has 6.1 beds per 100,000 population, and some European countries, notably Germany and Belgium, have in excess of 10 beds per 100,000 population. Even so, many of these higher performing European countries still have to use prison as a place of custody for mentally impaired accused to cover the shortfall in forensic beds.
When countries with ten times the quantity of forensic beds still have to use the prison system as a place of custody, it becomes apparent how chronically under-resourced the forensic psychiatric system is in Western Australia. The lack of forensic beds in Western Australia has been frequently noted in this Office’s inspection reports.
The lack of forensic beds impacts adversely on the provision of health care to mentally impaired accused. The Frankland Centre is constantly at capacity. Only patients most in need of acute care are able to remain there, and if someone is sent to the Frankland Centre via a hospital order from court, another patient will have to be discharged and sent to prison to make room for the incoming person.
The consequence is that the least unwell individual is sent to prison, even if they still require acute care. As a result their mental health may deteriorate further. Prisoners who are in need of acute care face lengthy delays before a bed in the Frankland Centre is available. Many prisons will now not even attempt to refer unwell prisoners to the Frankland Centre as they know there is no space.