Overcoming stigma in legal and justice services

Everyone has the right to be protected from crime, as well as be able to access justice if they are a victim of a crime. Legal services should support people in their interactions with police and the court system, but people with lived experience of a mental health issue can face barriers to justice without proper support.

According to SANE’s "National Stigma Report Card" survey, not only do people with complex mental health feel the justice system is not equipped to support or protect them, their loved ones and their possessions, they are also more likely to experience violent crimes. 

Many people with lived experience of complex mental health have experienced or anticipate experiencing stigma and discrimination when accessing justice or legal services. Many people have also stopped themselves from accessing these services because of stigma. Many survey respondents reported experiencing discrimination and violence within the justice system, while some people said their experience of mental health was used against them and led to unjust outcomes. The report shows that there is a lack of flexibility, empathy, understanding of and support for complex mental health needs at all levels of the justice system in Australia. 

The report has recommended three main ways that the justice system could improve.

The first recommendation is to enshrine policies and a culture of zero tolerance of violence and harassment. All officers should receive trauma-informed training. 

Second, programs that allow a mental health professional or peer worker to be present at a police call out or in situations involving a person with lived experience should be more readily available. 

Lastly, peer support programs supporting people with lived experience through the justice system should be more available across both state and federal matters. Peer support programs bring people with lived experience to the centre of care and ensure that a strengths-based approach is taken to ensure people with complex mental health are safe and respected. There should also be more pro-bono legal support offered. 

Flourish Australia recognises the importance of peer support programs to help people on their recovery journey. We can support you in finding new work, a new home, and even new friends. Get in touch with us on 1300 779 270 or drop us a note here: https://www.flourishaustralia.org.au/contact-us