Judge: care for mentally ill

Limited local facilities for the mentally ill were aired in Grand Court recently when Defence Attorney John Furniss advised that he might have to abandon an appeal.

Mr. Furniss appeared for Maxwell Wilson, who was appealing his three year sentence for burglary. When Mr. Furniss first gave notice of appeal, the magistrate who imposed the sentence encouraged him so that the question of proper facilities could be aired.

Meanwhile, Wilson remained at Northward Prison. His appeal has come to Grand Court at least four times.

On 11 November, Mr. Furniss reminded the court of efforts made to find alternative accommodation – some kind of halfway house where Wilson could receive medication, food and so on. ‘I’m afraid to say, there is still nothing available,’ he advised.

However, because the matter has been going on for so long, it now seemed that Wilson had a potential early release date in January. If that were so, Mr. Furniss would have to abandon the appeal so that it would not interfere with other considerations.

Mrs. Justice Priya Levers commented that the system did not really assist people who needed this kind of help. In the old days, they were sent to Jamaica, she noted.

Mr. Furniss said that the Mental Health Unit at the hospital is not used for this kind of situation. It is meant for short-term stabilisation.

The judge said it was really very sad that this country could not look after its mentally ill. She called upon the authorities to look after their mentally ill, the same as they do the old and the sick. ‘We might all get there some day,’ she pointed out.

Mr. Furniss referred to options that had been canvassed in Summary Court for mentally ill persons convicted of a criminal offence.

Many are on medication for bipolar disorder, but get into trouble when they stop taking their medication and/or exacerbate their condition by using illegal drugs. An assisted living facility would enable such people to work during the day but return to a supervised environment to sleep, get proper food and their prescribed medicine.

The judge saluted Mr. Furniss for his efforts, saying it was wonderful to see how hard he had tried.

But, she pointed out, the case should not have to come to court for society to look after its mentally ill. Society of its own volition should have some facility without the court saying so.

Mentally ill people cannot be put in prison and then have the key thrown away, she indicated.

The judge spoke to a person officer present and asked that Wilson get as much freedom as possible, along with his treatment.

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