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Letter of the Day | Put prisoner mental health on front burner

Published:Tuesday | September 17, 2019 | 12:00 AM


As a human-rights organisation working in the island’s correctional facilities, we continue to be concerned about the situation of the mentally ill behind bars.

The ideal solution is for these persons to be diverted to mental-healthcare treatment and for a modern forensic psychiatric facility to be provided or built to provide treatment for the most severe cases. Such a facility should see a joint team of warders specifically trained with the aim of curing rather than punishing.

While we wait for this facility, however, the next best option is to assess the mentally ill once they are admitted to a penal institution and divert the minor cases to day-care centres where they can receive attention. Institutionalisation of the mentally ill should be a last resort because it reduces the possibility for them to be recuperated or cured.


If diversion is to be a solution, the focus needs to be on providing support to the families of the mentally ill so that they can properly care for them. The day-care centres can serve as rehabilitation facilities where they can go to learn a practical skill and be engaged in productive activity. This will ease the pressure on the families, who will only need to care for them at nights. Consideration should also be given to the establishment of halfway houses for those persons who have suffered some type of trauma and just need a place to recuperate.

Mental-health services cover the range of psychosocial, and pharmacological therapies, either individual or group, including biological, psychological and social, to alleviate symptoms, attain appropriate functioning, and prevent relapse.

The availability of comprehensive mental-health services, as described above, behind bars is, across many correctional systems, a function of the culture and developmental stage of the respective countries in which these systems operate. The attitudes of a country’s citizens towards mental illness as a healthcare issue and towards the human rights of prisoners, in general, are also influencing factors.

Correctional administrators, in exercising their duty of care, must recognise that the imperative for the safeguarding of human rights of prisoners as enshrined in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) and other international conventions extends to mentally ill inmates and that medical services should be delivered without prejudice.


Executive Director

Stand Up for Jamaica