As WA continues to struggle with dealing with mentally impaired accused, a young Aboriginal woman imprisoned indefinitely in Kalgoorlie is to be released.
The guardian of a mentally impaired Aboriginal woman held indefinitely in a West Australian prison because she was deemed unfit to stand trial says her imminent release to her home town is long overdue.
Rosie Anne Fulton, 24, was charged over crashing a stolen car but, as she has foetal alcohol syndrome and the mental age of a young child, was considered unfit to stand trial and handed a custody order that effectively meant an indefinite sentence.
WA is scrambling to find a way to deal with such cases, with its proposal to build disability justice centres or “declared places” in suburban areas met by opposition from residents.
A recent review of custody orders by the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services concluded the state’s current system for managing mentally impaired accused was unjust, under-resourced and ineffective.
For Ms Fulton, it is a system that has kept her in Kalgoorlie Prison for the past 21 months.
As early as next week, she will be moved to her hometown of Alice Springs where she will live under the supervised care of staff from the Northern Territory Health Department.
“If she chooses to remove herself from the care on offer … she’ll be back in serious jeopardy,” guardian Ian McKinlay told ABC radio on Thursday.
“Eventually, all going well, she’ll move into less restrictive care in the future and a more independent lifestyle.”
Mr McKinlay said if his ward had been fit to plead, she would have been released long ago.
“It could range from a good behaviour bond from anything to six months (jail) in the Northern Territory if she had been convicted of that sort of offence and didn’t have a huge number of priors,” he said.
Mr McKinlay said Ms Fulton was feeling a little apprehensive, but was very much looking forward to going home.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said Ms Fulton’s release was long overdue.
He said it was unclear how many other people were in a similar position and called for a national audit of Australia’s prisons.
“What we get told is eight in the Northern Territory and around about the same number in Western Australia.
“I’d say one person sitting in jail without being convicted of anything is one too many.”
The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services review recommended giving WA courts greater flexibility to deal with mentally impaired accused including community based alternatives.
Other recommendations included increasing the number of dedicated forensic mental health beds in hospitals, developing transitional mental health units at Bandyup Women’s Prison and at least one male prison, and pushing ahead with the establishment of declared places.