16th Reintegration Puzzle Conference

Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
1-3 March 2023

Changing Seasons,
Changing Lives

National opportunities to improve prison mental health policy and investment

In the past 15 years Australia’s mental health system has undergone major reforms, many of which have resulted in a more nationally coordinated approach to policy making. However, although justice settings are critical sites for addressing health inequalities, they are structurally separated from national mental health policy making. For example, key tools and initiatives such as the National Mental Health Services Planning Framework, national safety and quality measures, and national KPIs for public mental health services, do not include prison mental health settings. The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan does not refer to justice settings or include indicators for mental health services in these settings in its implementation plan, although they are important for all of the eight priority areas in the Plan.  This separation limits the capacity for informed investment and policy making by justice administrators. It also constrains health equity in Australia, and the extent to which Australia can achieve its public mental health goals.

This presentation draws on a recent national audit of government policies relevant to mental health services in justice settings, a Churchill fellowship examining the role of national agencies in supporting sub-national prison/jail mental health systems, and a national consultation project on forensic mental health principles.  It discusses policy gaps and examples of how other jurisdictions are responding to some of these challenges. It includes recommendations for national mental health policy reform, including aspects of mental health financing, planning, quality improvement, research, data collection and sharing, workforce development, and information exchange.


Louise Southalan
Project Manager
, Wungening Aboriginal Corporation

Louise works as project manager on the Birdiya Maya Homelessness Research Project for Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, is a Research Associate at Curtin University working on national and international justice health projects, and a board member of Mental Health Matters 2, which works on embedding lived experience expertise on decision making in justice and health systems and services.  She is also a steering committee member of WEPHREN, the Worldwide Prison Health Research and Engagement Network.

Louise is a lawyer who has previously practised in criminal law, worked in the WA Mental Health Commission on mental health legislation and prison mental health services, and for the WA Department of Justice developing an AOD therapeutic community within Casuarina prison.  She is a Churchill Fellow, completing her report in 2020 on strategies for national agencies to improve state prison mental health systems and services.  She holds a law degree and masters degrees in International Development and in Mental Health Policy and Services.