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One in every 12 at prisons is mentally ill – Prison Report

One in every 12 at prisons is mentally ill – Prison Report
New Superintendent of Prisons Timothy Hazelwood

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According to recent prison statistics, almost one in every 12 persons at Her Majesty’s Prisons is mentally ill.
New Superintendent of Prisons (SOP) Timothy Hazelwood, who officially took up this position on December 14, presented the prison status this Monday, December 21, at the end of the High Court assizes.

At the end of his report, the Superintendent informed Justice Brian Cottle, the prosecutors, the defence counsel, the Commissioner of Police, high ranking members of the Force and others, about the condition of the prisoners health wise.

He said that of a total population of 418 prisoners, 36 are mentally ill. The number of known hepatitis cases is six, the number of known diabetics is three; known asthmatics, four; epileptics number four, and there are two persons who are HIV positive.

This number surprised counsel Jomo Thomas, who posed a question to the SOP.

He wanted to know what kind of service, facilities, action, is being taken on behalf of the authorities to address the issue of mental illness.

“…Being just landed, I am not reviewed fully to the full structure of rehab, but I want to believe on the next occasion I will be more equipped to answer such questions,” Hazelwood responded.

The judge said that he was going to ask the SOP to specifically address it on his next appearance before them.

Later in the proceedings, in the section of the sitting that allows for commentary by the defence bar, Thomas also spoke on the topic again.

He highlighted the case of one of his clients, who has been in the prison since 2005, and has two charges for murder.

On the first charge, the client was tried and sentenced, appealed, the sentence was overturned and he was tried again. He has appealed once more, but this appeal has been stayed for years by a need for a transcript of the second trial.

This matter of the transcript, the lawyer said, “That’s a serious, serious problem because it goes towards the rights of criminal defendants who, in principle, we all know are innocent until proven guilty.”

On the second charge, his client has never been tried, “Never been tried. And it’s 15 years.”

“That same defendant who was tried twice for murder is now certified insane in the prisons,” the lawyer stated. He noted that, not having been the person’s client since the beginning, he does not know if the authorities felt he was fit for trial then.

“…but there is a report which was done by the Registrar in the Department of Psychiatry, says that this man remains mentally ill and is not fit to participate in court proceedings at this time,” Thomas said, but he remains in prison.

He maintained that this was a “serious, serious, serious” human rights issue, and that the authorities ought to give the problem serious attention.

After all had spoken, Justice Cottle also weighed in on the issue of persons with mental illness behind bars. He stated that the fact that a person has been sent to prison doesn’t make them any less of a citizen.

“But there also is the fact that we have certain physical infrastructural challenges,” he said.

“We have a mental health centre which provides some level of care in this area, but the persons who staff it are not trained in matters of security,” Cottle explained, “I’m not sure how fair it is to ask them to be responsible for the care of persons who might not only be mentally ill, but might also be dangerous.”

On the other hand, the converse is also true, the judge said, wherein persons trained in security such as the prison staff may not have “sufficient training in the area of mental health care.”

Therefore, the question is what is to be done when someone is both dangerous and mentally ill.

The “sad practical answer” would be that they remain in prison.

“…Where they may or may not be accessing mental health care simply because we don’t have anywhere better to put them,” Cottle noted.

“This is 2021 more or less – can we afford not to do better as we go forward? I don’t think so,” he concluded.