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'Totally unacceptable!' - Saunders says rehab inadequate for mentally ill behind bars

Published:Wednesday | January 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Major General Stewart Saunders has indicated that correctional centres are failing hundreds of mentally ill persons who are being held in custody, deprived of adequate rehabilitation, some for years.

His comments come against the background of revelations yesterday that three psychiatrists are attending to 264 mentally ill persons - 80 of whom are unfit to plea in court - in two major correctional facilities.

He told members of the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament yesterday that the correctional department did not have adequately trained staff, appropriate infrastructure, and an environment that was conducive to effectively treating and rehabilitating mentally ill inmates in adult institutions.

Saunders argued that the ratio of psychiatrists to mentally ill inmates was totally unacceptable. "What we have been trying to do in the last four months, along with other partners in the society, is to bring in other psychologists to assist with the rehabilitative process," he said.

However, he said with limited resources, the department tries to meet the needs of the mentally ill persons. He also said that the Jamaica Association of Psychologists had recently volunteered its services to go into the correctional centres and help.

lost in the system

Committee member Mikael Phillips raised concern about the plight of the mentally ill behind bars, expressing fears that these persons might "get lost in the system".

"A lot of them have been left there for years just because they are in the category of those unfit to plea. That is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form, and we have to find a mechanism to address that category of mentally ill persons," Saunders said.

Reuben Kelly, superintendent in the correctional services, also admitted that at times, the mentally ill languished in the system for an inordinately long time. He explained that "once the court says you are unfit to plea in the first instance, there are follow-ups by psychiatrists". He said that until a psychiatrist certified that the inmate could plea, he would not be taken to court.

Phillips and, by extension, the committee, demanded a report on how long the 80 mentally ill persons deemed unfit to plea had been in the system before they were assessed and their cases brought before the court.

Saunders said the Ministry of National Security would prepare a report for the committee on the issue.

Lynvale Bromfield, member of parliament for East Portland, citing the vulnerability of the mentally ill, wants a speedy resolution to the matter.

"If we can get them out of the correctional services - you have three psychiatrists - once their professional work is done, it doesn't take six years to get through 80 persons and to legally and professionally designate these persons mentally ill, and, therefore, they should be removed completely forthwith from the correctional services to an institution where they can be attended to," said Bromfield, who is also a medical doctor.

Commissioner of Corrections Jevene Bent told the committee that she had recently made a presentation on the challenges faced by the mentally ill to the National Security Council.