A Lismore Magistrate has voiced concerns for a lack of support for offenders suffering from mental health issues and experiencing homelessness.
A Lismore Magistrate has voiced concerns for a lack of support for offenders suffering from mental health issues and experiencing homelessness. Cade Mooney

Desperate, sick criminals fall through cracks

A LISMORE Magistrate has spoken about the difficulty for criminal offenders to access appropriate mental health and homelessness support.

A Northern Rivers man faced Lismore Local Court via audio visual link on Tuesday, to be sentenced over a charge of break-and-enter with intent.

The court heard the man was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s and had also been experiencing homelessness.

The man's defence solicitor, Hugh Van Dugteren, said there was a relatively "low level of criminality" in his client's offence, although a resident of the home was present during the break-in.

He said mental illness had a "significant impact" on his client's life "for a number of years" and suggested a non-custodial sentence to allow the defendant to seek proper support.

"It's clear this man has had a troubled childhood," Mr Van Dugteren said.

"It's the acts of a desperate and mentally-ill person.

"It doesn't reduce the moral culpability in the eye of the victim ... (but) what this man needs is support.

"He needs support so he can access stable accommodation, so he can access medication."

Prosecutor Paul Clark said the man "hadn't learnt his lesson" after previous convictions and said a custodial sentence "would be appropriate".

"He needs to be shown he can't continue to offend in this way," he said.

Magistrate David Heilpern said it was "very difficult" to sentence the man.

"The offence was aggravated (because) the victim was at home," Mr Heilpern said.

"Obviously it would have been an extremely frightening experience for the victim."

Mr Heilpern said there was no "effective specific deterrence" for someone with such long-standing mental health issues as the defendant.

Safety implications for the community, therefore, were central to his decision, he said.

"The defendant obviously suffers from an ongoing psychological illness," Mr Heilpern said.

"He falls through the cracks of the criminal justice and the health systems."

He noted the man only opted to attempted theft out of desperation for food, accommodation and medication.

"These offences are not offences of greed. They're offences of need," he said. "He doesn't want to be unwell."

Mr Heilpern sentenced him to 18 months' imprisonment with a non-parole period of nine months, which was backdated to his arrest date of November 22 last year.

He said the "lengthy period" of supervision after his release would better facilitate the man's rehabilitation. The man will be eligible to apply for parole from August 21 this year.


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