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'Injustice' - Parliamentarians want mentally ill removed from prison

Published:Thursday | November 3, 2016 | 11:00 AMJovan Johnson
Hunter

Enraged parliamentarians are demanding that the Government find the resources to immediately remove from Jamaica's maximum security prisons 127 mentally ill inmates languishing in custody and unfit to plead.

Yesterday, members of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) described as a disgrace the disclosure from Ina Hunter, commissioner of corrections, who also said that "several" have been incarcerated for more than a decade.

"Those that are unfit to plea would not have got a determinate sentence, and they would have had to attain a mental state where they can deliver themselves in the court," Hunter said, noting that the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) cannot release inmates, and the lack of family support makes it even more difficult.

"They would be taken back to court, and a determination could be made to send them home, but there's no family support in many instances," she added.

The inmates, who are housed separately at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston and the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, are separated from the general population of more than 3,000.

Hunter said that treatment has been limited and that the authorities have been looking for alternative accommodation.

Meanwhile, Dianne McIntosh, permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, who was appointed three months ago, said she needed more time to get all the information on the situation although she noted that reforms were being pursued.

"It is an absolute disgrace! This can't wait on reform! It is an indictment against us. Yes, it has been there for years, and we know in the ministry that this is how it has been, and yet it has always been on the back burner and nobody has brought it forward," said Marisa Dalrymple Philibert, member of parliament for Trelawny Southern.

"There are many of them with mental illness, who, if they were able to access proper treatment and care, would be normal and functional people in the society. The officers in the correctional services cannot provide that. It is sad, and I hope that we can jump this forward and put the time, the effort, and the money where it ought to be."

Mikael Phillips, the Manchester North Western representative, said at least a temporary solution needs to be found now.

"They should not be in institutions such as the two large ones - even if there is something done temporarily - but they ought not to be in our prison systems as is now. Even the resources just to deal with their mental state within the system are not being dealt with as they ought to be," he said.

Carla Gullota, the coordinator of rights group Stand Up Jamaica, who has been working in Jamaica's prisons for years, said the call for the immediate removal of the inmates from the prisons should have come a long time ago.

"Mentally ill are not supposed to be in a prison," she told The Gleaner.

"They are supposed to be cured and taken care of according to their different kinds of sickness. In an institution like a prison, that cannot happen. I also think of the so-called normal inmates, who have to deal with a lot of this. I'm thinking about the warders, too. It's a huge challenge."

Gullota said Jamaica's holding of the mentally ill in the prisons could be in breach of the Constitution's provision for the right to life as well as conventions under the United Nations.

Hugh Faulkner, executive director of the Legal Aid Council, said the council is dealing with 50 of the inmates but more needs to be done.

"We really need a facility, and I would urge all the steps that can be taken whereby the persons can get psychiatric care."

PAAC chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill, who also deplores the situation and referred to it as an "injustice", has demanded a report from the DCS detailing the situation of all mentally ill inmates. The report, he said, would be used to push Parliament to act.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com