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Prisoner's rights

Health and disability

Mental health

Can I see a counsellor for mental health issues, like depression?

Corrections Act 2004, s 75; Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 77, 79

Mental health services are available within the prison system, but they vary from prison to prison.

The prison system has psychologists who can provide assessments and one-on-one counselling as required. However, it can take some time before you get to see them.

Usually there’s a psychiatrist also attached to a prison’s health department, whether full time or part time. The prison medical staff may decide that you should see the prison psychiatrist based on your history and treatment that you were receiving before you arrived in prison, or because of new referrals based on your concerns or officer’s concerns, or assessments from the forensic nurses. (Unlike a psychologist, psychiatrists also have a medical degree.)

ACC counselling for previous sexual abuse is also available through approved ACC counsellors while you’re in prison.

Can I get help to deal with violence or anger issues?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 49-52

When you arrive at prison you must have an assessment that identifies any physical or mental health issues, and any safety or security needs. Violence or anger issues should form part of this needs assessment. These needs must be addressed by the prison.

Help with violence or anger can be provided in rehabilitative programmes provided by prisons. However, sometimes there’s a waiting list or some programmes won’t be available. You can also be refused access to a programme if the prison staff think you won’t benefit from it, but they must have a good reason for this decision.

Rehabilitation around anger management and violence is usually best dealt with through your case manager as part of the rehabilitative process for your release.

Being assessed and treated under the Mental Health Act

Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992, ss 45, 46

In some cases you can required to be assessed and treated for mental health issues under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992. This will depend on whether a mental-health professional decides that you have a “mental disorder”. If so, you can be held and assessed for up to a month, and if after this time the mental-health professionals decide you need treatment, they can apply to the Family Court for a Compulsory Treatment Order (CTO).

The definition of “mental disorder” sets quite a high threshold. Often people with more minor or short-term mental health problems will be dealt with instead within the prison system. This could be by meeting with prison psychologists or other health professionals, or by being transferred to an “at risk” unit within the prison.

If, however, you’re brought under the compulsory assessment and treatment scheme, you may be transferred to a hospital or psychiatric hospital. Your next of kin or some other person you’ve chosen will be told promptly. Unless and until the Family Court makes a Compulsory Treatment Order, you’ll still formally be in the custody of the prison system. But if a Compulsory Treatment Order is made, you’ll be put in the custody of an official called the Director of Area Mental Health Services under the Mental Health Act. The Director can at any time decide that you’re fit to be released back into prison.

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