The Mental Health Legal Centre in Victoria has teamed up with DLA Phillips Fox to provide legal advice to prisoners assessed as experiencing a mental illness.
The program will see lawyers from DLA's Melbourne office speak over the phone with the prisoners in Marrmak - a specialist mental health service in Dame Phyllis Frost prison about 70km southwest of Melbourne - to provide confidential legal advice on legal related matters outside of any criminal convictions.
"A lot of them have administrative problems, like rental, housing and human right rights issues," Alice Skipper, a solicitor at DLA told Lawyers Weekly today. "This advice is in addition to legal aid for their criminal convictions to deal with all the others that arise, such as what happens to their house, custody of children and family issues."
Skipper added that while DLA already had a relationship with the Mental Health Legal Centre through its pro bono program, this work will form part of a broader three-year project to assist the centre in reporting on the legal needs of prisoners experiencing a mental illness.
The data collected from the casework will help identify systemic issues requiring law and policy reform, as well as other areas requiring broader community education to raise awareness of the legal needs of prisoners experiencing mental illness.
Skipper, who has previously provided advice to prisoners over the phone, said the program allows her to fulfill a more human element of law, in addition to her work in planning and environment law at DLA.
"You do see the same problems coming up again and again - they are all in a similar position."
- Angela Priestley