Mon | Apr 24, 2017

LETTER OF THE DAY - Lost behind bars

Published:Wednesday | August 27, 2014 | 8:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Stephen Fray, who attempted to hijack a plane in 2009, was sentenced to 83 years in prison (to serve 20 years as the sentences run concurrently) and subsequently lost his appeal in 2011. He has now been granted the opportunity to appeal his case to the Privy Council.

Fray, who is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, has, like so many others, been unable to receive proper mental-health care while serving his sentence and will most likely see his condition worsen. The judicial system has not demonstrated a true comprehension of mental illness

Mario Deane was allegedly beaten by at least two fellow inmates who were said to be mentally ill while he was in the Barnett Street lock-up. Several issues come to the fore in the Deane case that all require swift attention and reconciliation. Why were these individuals placed in police lock-up? Why was Deane placed in the same cell as they? Did they receive any type of psychological evaluation? This could have easily been the other way around, as Deane or any other inmate of 'sound mind' could have rained blows on the mentally ill men in the cell.

These issues speak to the inability of the justice system to adequately process cases involving persons who are mentally ill. In the correctional facilities, the ratio of mental-health practitioners to mentally ill inmates is roughly 1:90. This is grossly inadequate. According to the United Nations, "Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation." Well, it seems we are adhering to that standard, as the mentally ill behind bars are victim to the same lack of service the mentally ill in the general population receive. The mentally ill have been underserviced and often mistreated.

Let's face it! The mentally ill are not above the law, but the law must make proper provisions for them to stand trial and to serve their sentence in a facility that is best suited for their condition.

In other Caribbean countries, forensic mental-health facilities exist for mentally ill persons to serve their criminal sentences and receive care at the same time. But then again, Jamaica would need to raise the level of treatment and care available to the mentally ill before attempting to implement a forensic mental-health system. This issue of mental-health care and the human rights of the mentally ill, in and out of conflict with the law, is one of utmost importance and must be addressed post-haste.

JHANILLE A. BROOKS

Director, Jamaica Mental

Health Advocacy Network

jamhan2012@gmail.com