In April, Debbie Hetty Ebanks was sentenced to two years probation for setting her mattress on fire at the George Town Hospital Mental Health Unit.
By that time, the court was told, she had already spent the equivalent of a seven-month sentence in custody.
Mr. Justice Alex Henderson, after hearing the facts and mitigation, placed Ebanks on probation with strict conditions. Among them, she was to attend the in-patient programme at Caribbean Haven.
He noted that she suffered from bipolar affective disorder and seemed to be complying with her doctor’s orders in that respect. However, it was still necessary to address the other half of her diagnosis, which was drug abuse.
During her probation period, she was not to consume alcohol or any drug other than medications prescribed for her.
Ebanks subsequently attended Caribbean Haven where she remained for 18 days and then left of her own will, without completing the programme.
She was taken into custody and brought to court in June for the breach of probation. Mr. Justice Henderson asked if he could impose a short prison sentence that Ebanks would serve at Caribbean Haven.
Senior Crown Counsel Adam Roberts said no. Caribbean Haven is not a designated prison, he indicated. Further, voluntariness is an important part of being there, he said.
The judge then said he would continue Ebanks’ probation and give her another chance to complete the Caribbean Haven programme.
However, it turned out that Caribbean Haven would not accept Ebanks back.
She therefore returned to court last week for a final disposal. Defence Attorney James Austin-Smith said the case was a sentencing dilemma in the true sense of the word dilemma because there was no right sentence.
Ebanks needed to be in a secure facility where she would receive her medication and have counselling, he indicated.
Mr. Austin-Smith suggested a short custodial sentence so that Ebanks could consolidate her position. She was positive about her future, currently clean of drugs and determined to remain that way.
The judge agreed and imposed a sentence of 18 months. With credit for time served, he suggested, Ebanks would be released in two months or less.
According to facts set out by the Crown at the original sentencing, Ebanks was admitted to the mental health ward in November 2003. Around 11.30pm she and others in the garden area were told they needed to return to their cells.
Ebanks told the nurse she was waiting for cigarettes. An argument developed and she refused to go to her room. She was taken to her room, where she was the only occupant.
About five minutes later, attendants noticed that the bed was on fire. The room was entered and an extinguisher was used to put out the flames.
The bed and blinds were damaged. A bill of $3,052.42 included cost of the bed and linen, repainting, housekeeping and water extraction. The sprinkler system also had to be replaced.
Mr. Justice Henderson discussed Ebanks’ illness with her and asked if she understood her condition. ‘It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain, sir,’ she replied.
The judge told her there was nothing about her illness that made her light that fire. ‘You did that because you wanted to get attention,’ he said.
The judge pointed out that her condition would not interfere with having a regular life if she took her prescribed medication. But illegal drugs interfered with the medication so that it did not work.
At the sentence hearing on Friday, the judge observed that Ebanks had not been taking her prescribed medication when she committed the offence. Bipolar affective disorder is well known to be associated with troublesome and anti-social behaviour when the person does not take his or her medication.
Some drug counselling would be available to Ebanks in prison, he had been told.