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CUMI urges Gov't to separate mentally ill prisoners

Published:Wednesday | September 17, 2014 | 9:00 AM

Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU: Nurse administrator at the Montego Bay, St James-based Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI), Joy Crooks, is recommending that persons with mental illnesses be housed separately while in the custody of the State.

Speaking with The Gleaner yesterday, Crooks said that under normal circumstances, a police lock-up should never be the first option for mentally challenged individuals in state care.

She said such persons should be taken directly to an appropriate health-care facility where they can be properly assessed and treated by trained and qualified mental health officers or psychiatrists.

"They should be separated, and the time that they are in these confined places should be [as] minimal as possible," Crooks said.

"By right, the lock-up should not be the first option or destination for them … but if they're taken to the lock-up at first option, a mental-health officer or a psychiatrist should be contacted."

Crooks added: "If a mental-health officer or psychiatric person does not attend the lock-up within 12 hours, that person should be taken to the hospital emergency department and a psychiatrist be contacted to evaluate and assess the status of the person."

UNSUITABLE CONDITIONS

Pointing out that she has seen the insides of some of the country's lock-ups, the nurse administrator stressed that the conditions - especially the confinement of the spaces - were unsuitable for housing the mentally ill.

"Those confined places can affect some persons with mental illness, as they cannot really function in an acceptable way within those environments, especially if they are acting out any of their delusional thought disorders," continued Crooks.

Speaking against the back-ground of the recent case of Mario Deane being fatally beaten, allegedly by mentally ill persons, while in custody at the Barnett Street lock-up, Crooks said based on her experience, it was highly unusual for mentally ill persons to become violent while in lock-up.

"Some of the mentally ill persons, though they are acting out or showing mental-health symptoms, those might be symptoms of withdrawal. That means they are more likely to draw into a corner and huddle in that corner because of their fear of the unknown that is surrounding them in this environment," she disclosed.

"It's very unusual, unless they are irritated, that they become violent against others, because they see those other persons as a threat, and they will withdraw or huddle in a corner, trying to protect themselves from whatever fear they are visualising within their thought disorders.

"If they are being attacked, they will respond in self-defence with the flight or fright situation, but it's very unusual that the first option, they will get up and attack anybody in that vicious way, from my experience," she added.

karrie.williams@gleanerjm.com