THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO EDUCATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH PATIENTS
20th January 2012: Victory! Saeed Sayaf Dezfouli appeared on Monday in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal where he won the right to study law and learn a musical instrument. A vocation, education and training officer will meet with him to discuss his education aspirations.
See Justice Action's Media Release on this wonderful news.
Education as a Right – not just a privilege
Education is an important factor in achieving the full development of the whole person and should include access to formal and informal education, literacy programs, basic education, vocational training, physical education and sport, social education, higher education and library facilities (UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education of persons in detention 2009 pp. 7 http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/A.HRC.11.8_en.pdf ). Education plays a significant role in the employment, rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners, and if given the right opportunity, of mental health patients as well.
The United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners states that “All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality.” Yet the right to education for prisoners is still proven to be an ongoing struggle.
The Government in 2008-09 provided $23 million for inmate education. This represents 2.52% of the amount allocated in the State Budget to the Department of Corrective Services," said Federation President Bob Lipscombe. "Despite this, provision and access to education courses in NSW is not guaranteed in legislation. The Australian Senate report on Education and Training in Correctional Facilities recommended that education and training of offenders be promoted as a right not a privilege."
Mental health patients are often held for indefinite periods in maximum-security gaols with little opportunity for recovery, often subject to frequent periods of solitary confinement. Yet education connects these people to the outside world, provides mental stimulation, and access to necessary legal documents to adequately prepare their individual cases.
Australian and Health Acts currently do not make an explicit reference to the education needs of mental health patients. Despite being considered not guilty by Australian courts, these patients receive less government support and rights to accessing education than NSW prisoners. This is a discriminatory and outdated practice.
Rights of Mental Health Patients–clear entitlement that cannot be denied
The Charter for Mental Health Care in NSW (http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/pubs/2000/pdf/mhcharter.pdf) states that every person in the State has the right to mental health services that:
(11) Address quality of like issues such as accommodation, education, work and income, leisure and sport, home and family and other relationships;
And that (15) Encourage and support self-help.
This derives from Section 68 of the Mental Health Act 2007
(a) People with a mental illness or mental disorder should receive the best possible care and treatment in the least restrictive environment enabling the care and treatment to be effectively given
(b) The provision of care and treatment should be designed to assist people with a mental illness or mental disorder, wherever possible to live, work and participate in the community
Internationally, the Australian Government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and therefore has a commitment to uphold these rights, including right to education (Article 26) (www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/).
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 13.1 states “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of their human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…”
Furthermore, Article 13.2(b) highlights that “Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”
Discrimination Law -ensures patients’ rights are equal to Prisoners
Commonwealth law defines mental illness as a disability that is not to be discriminated against. In particular, the following Acts are significant in highlighting the lack of legal safeguards mental health patients have relation to education. This is especially pertinent when we compare these provisions with those allocated to convicted offenders in prison.
Under Section 24 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)
It is unlawful for a person who, whether for payment or not, provides goods or services, or makes facilities available, to discriminate against another on the ground of the other person’s disability:
(a) by refusing to provide the other person with those goods or services or to make those facilities available to the other person.
Additionally, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)
(www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/maintop/view/.../act+48+1977+cd+0+N) also lists obligations against discriminating on the grounds of mental illness.
Arguably, the question that still lingers in all stakeholders’ minds is that why do mental health patients should be given less access to education than prisoners are currently entitled to. Essentially, access to education for mental health patients should be a right entitled to them, not just a matter of privilege !