Hundreds of mentally ill persons are still languishing in Jamaica’s prisons without adequate treatment, some without ever being tried or sentenced.
That’s according to a new study released by the lobby group, Stand Up for Jamaica, today.
The report titled “Through the Cracks”, outlines several issues facing mentally ill persons behind bars.
The study was funded by the European Union.
According to Stand Up for Jamaica, some 313 mentally ill people are locked away in correctional institutions across the island, even though they’re not supposed to be there.
Director of Medical Services at the Department of Correctional Services, Dr. Donna Royer-Powe, says there’s nowhere to adequately accommodate them.
Dr. Royer-Powe says they also don’t have any full time psychiatrist, and only one psychiatric nurse.
The report notes that the situation is bound to exacerbate mental illness, rather than make those persons better.
Deputy Public Defender, Victor Hemmings, says he’s been to the area where the mentally ill are kept at the Tower Street Correctional Facility.
He describes it as a dungeon.
Hemmings says he vomited more than once the first time he visited.
Human rights attorney, Nancy Anderson, says many mentally ill persons languish in prisons for years without being tried or sentenced, because they’ve been deemed unfit to plea.
In fact, the study highlighted the case of 61-year-old Walter Blackstock, who spent 31-years behind bars without trial.
He was arrested in 1987 for a ganja spliff, and deemed unfit to plead.
Stand Up for Jamaica is recommending the creation of a mental health care strategy, which includes the recruitment and adequate compensation of a team of mental health professionals.
They’re also calling for the establishment of specialized Mental Health Courts.
Executive Director of Stand Up for Jamaica, Carla Gullata, says the Ministry of Justice was invited to today’s event, but did not attend.
Meanwhile, Health and Wellness Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton, says his ministry is prepared to help.
Dr. Tufton says they’ve also recommended options to prison for the mentally ill.
Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health and Wellness.
He was speaking this morning at the launch of “Through the Cracks”, a “Report on Mental Illness Behind Bars” by Stand Up for Jamaica.