Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Letter of the Day | Give mentally ill prisoners urgent intervention

Published:Wednesday | May 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Stand Up for Jamaica is encouraged by recent news that the Ministry of National Security is working on a policy on how to treat, care, and house mentally ill persons who are incarcerated but who are unfit to plead.

Such a policy is long overdue and should be put into action urgently.

Mentally ill and lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender prisoners face unique challenges that complicate an already-difficult existence behind bars. These persons are essentially in a prison within a prison, as they face a double barrier of discrimination and ill treatment.

Particularly as it regards the mentally ill, comprehensive intervention is needed.

The fire that last year destroyed the George Davis section of the Tower Street correctional facility, which housed mentally ill inmates, was a sure sign that drastic action is needed to address the needs of these inmates. Stand Up for Jamaica has constantly been advocating for the mentally ill to be removed from prison, as this is no place for someone who has a verifiable psychiatric condition.

Furthermore, the 18 or so inmates who have been living in that section of the prison have not been receiving the level of care that they require. Correctional officers are not equipped to deal with mentally ill patients and have become untouchables in the correctional system.

 

A HEAVY BURDEN

 

Correctional officers have been given a heavy burden to bear, as they neither have the proper resources nor training to handle mentally ill inmates.

Being placed in an overcrowded, decrepit prison creates a toxic mix that does not facilitate healing and is not functional for the mentally ill.

The change required in this respect must begin in the justice system, as no judge who has evidence before her that indicates that an accused has a mental illness should be forced to condemn them to life behind bars because of the lack of alternatives.

Stand Up for Jamaica is willing and ready to work with the Ministry of National Security on devising solutions and would welcome any opportunity for engagement with Minister of State Rudyard Spencer on this particular issue.

CARLA GULLOTTA

Executive Director

Stand Up for Jamaica

sufjmedia@gmail.com