Judge: Halfway house ‘absolutely essential’

Potential progress was reported last week in dealing with mentally ill people who commit crimes.

Venue was the Grand Court, where Defence Attorney John Furniss presented an appeal on behalf of a mentally ill man sentenced to four years imprisonment for burglary.

The defendant, Maxwell Wilson, had a history of petty burglaries, initially of one restaurant he broke into several times for food. More recently he burgled a shop. The offence for which he received four years was of a residence at night.

When Mr. Furniss gave notice he would appeal the sentence, the magistrate agreed with him the matter needed examination.

In Grand Court, the attorney told Mrs. Justice Priya Levers that the magistrate had already tried a sentence by which Wilson was put on probation, to be assisted by family members, a probation officer and mental health worker. That had not worked.

Wilson received his medication while in prison. But at some point he would need a different structured environment – one from which he could go out to work and come back at night for a roof over his head, food and medication for his bipolar affective disorder. Wilson is strong and a good worker, Mr. Furniss pointed out.

Crown Counsel Gail Johnson said it had been indicated to her through the Attorney General that measures were going to the Legislative Assembly to have a halfway house as part of Probation Services.

‘It’s absolutely essential,’ Mrs. Justice Levers replied. ‘You can’t throw away these people, just lock them up. It’s inhumane.’

She said she hoped the halfway house would come to pass very quickly.

The judge also thanked Mr. Furniss for going out of his way to assist Wilson.

The appeal had gone before Mr. Justice Alexander Henderson on 26 May, but was postponed because Mr. Furniss had learned that there might be a facility that had occasionally been used as a halfway house for a few prisoners. The adjournment allowed Mr. Furniss to check into the matter. He discovered that the facility had been destroyed in Hurricane Ivan and the resources of the Probation Department were not up to restoring it.

At that first appeal hearing, Mr. Furniss noted that perhaps part of the problem was that Cayman does not have a large number of cases like Wilson’s. But there are others who are contained at the prison because they can receive their medications there regularly.

Mr. Justice Henderson observed, ‘One of the signs of mental illness is the belief that you’re not sick and so you don’t take the medication and it’s a vicious cycle.’

The judge then asked Wilson if he had heard of manic depression. Wilson said yes.

The judge then asked Wilson if he had it. The defendant replied, ‘Sometimes – I have stress.’

‘Do you think you need to take medication?’ the judge asked.

‘No, sir,’ Wilson replied. ‘Sometimes they tell me I have nerves.’ He also complained, ‘People treat me like a dog – throw me out. I’m sleeping in cars.’

The judge asked what would help. Wilson said if he had a home.

The judge pointed out that Wilson could get a job and make money to buy food and pay rent.

He also noted that people cannot be forced to take medication except in certain circumstances.

‘I suspect your problem is that you won’t take your medication. You’re sick. Like anyone who is sick you’ve got to take your medication,’ the judge told Wilson.