Activities include workshops, picnic

The Department of Community Rehabilitation celebrates its third Probation and Parole Week from September 21 to 28.

probation officers

Through/Aftercare team members are, from left, Sonia Wallace, senior probation officer; Theresa Forde, probation officer; Steven Smith, probation officer; and Lisa Hill-Malice, probation officer. Photo: Jewel Levy

This year will include a workshop, picnic and church service in Cayman Brac on 26-28 September.

The theme for the week is Exploring Creative Partnerships for Offenders with Mental Health Issues.

The week includes a three-day conference that explores the Mental Health Court, which can serve to divert persons who offend owing to severe mental illness, to mandated community treatment. The Department’s Through/Aftercare Team provides services to such offenders both in the prisons and in the community.

Through-care and Aftercare clients of the Department of Community Rehabilitation are serving custodial sentences or have been remanded by the courts. Those in Through-care are in custodial care and have either been referred by the Courts for the preparation of a Social Inquiry Report, have been referred through the Prison’s Sentence Planning Programme or have been referred by the Parole Commissioners’ Board for the preparation of a home background report, which assists in inmates’ assessment for release on a Parole Licence.

Aftercare clients are those granted the privilege by the Courts and/or the Parole Commissioners’ Board to complete their custodial sentences in the community on conditions of release or a Parole Licence.

The Through/Aftercare Team conducts interviews, prepares reports and supervises aftercare clients in the community. In fulfilment of these tasks for mental health clients, probation officers visit with family members, liaise with partner agencies including the mental health services, submit progress reports to the courts or reports to the Parole Commissioners’ Board and share in case conferences with partner agencies. The team also conducts community checks on these mental health clients. In the institutions, the managers of their custodial care access the treatment supports necessary for the mentally ill.

However, when clients are to be prepared for release, especially on a licence, the Department of Community Rehabilitation becomes one of the prison’s partner agencies and shares in preparation of the client as a part of our through-care services

The criminal justice system in many jurisdictions has been saddled with offenders in custodial care who may be mentally ill only or are dual diagnosed with severe mental disorder and co-occurring substance related disorders. In the Cayman Islands, of these may be offenders who, because of their illness and resulting poor functioning, had bench warrants for failing to appear in court and have difficulty fulfilling bail conditions.

The Through/Aftercare Team interfaces with such persons who may experience longer remands for evaluation and treatment. Throughout the years, the most unfortunate mental health offenders were those awaiting stabilization on medication in order to be fit to plea. They were usually the more difficult to manage persons and some were placed on Governor’s Pleasure. Currently, mentally ill Governor’s Pleasure cases are being revisited for release.

It has been agreed among the legal fraternity that incarceration of the mentally ill, especially those who have committed minor offences, has shifted the responsibility for secure inpatient care from the Mental Health System to the Criminal Justice System. The incarceration of the mentally ill is often a result of the limitation of beds and the shift in focus to deinstitutionalization and community treatment. However, some offenders with severe mental health disorders need a structured treatment regime that cannot be provided by intensive community treatment.

Offenders with severe mental health issues would include those with major depression, schizophrenia, other psychotic disorders and bipolar disorders. For many such persons, if they are dual diagnosed, they face the greater risk of being homeless and assaultive, hence without intervention they are prone to violent criminal activity. It is such persons who may face police arrest as they are viewed as a threat to public safety. In addition, their illness makes them less likely to be released on their own bail recognizance, more likely to be arrested frequently for similar offences and prone to be counter attacked and/or ridiculed in the community.

As a result of their first conviction, they gain criminal records, which may determine that criminalization is reinforced owing to the tendency to continue treatment through the Criminal Justice System rather than only in the Mental Health Services. Such individuals can often be incarcerated for petty/nonviolent crimes related to mental illnesses e.g. roaming on property and idle and disorderly persons. These offenders are doubly stigmatized as mentally ill and criminal. While incarcerated they are frequently exempted for programmes because the prison interventions are not therapeutic.

The Department of Community Rehabilitation has been one of the lead agencies in advocating for a multi-agency approach to resolving the plight of mentally ill offenders. The Department has recognised that reliance on community supervision to enforce mandated conditions is critical to reducing criminal involvement in the community and also impacts sustained treatment to offset future deterioration of the mentally ill.

Hence, the Through/Aftercare Team organizes and shares in a series of case conferences for each mentally ill person who is to be released on license or by the courts and a gradual release programme is implemented.

The team supervises over 10 such clients on Parole and Probation Orders. Agencies and others represented in the case conferences often include close care givers, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Mental Health Services, the Police, Her Majesty’s Prison, The Department of Counselling Services, the Parole Commissioners’ Board and nongovernmental interests, as necessary.

The Criminal Justice System, particularly the prison, must be commended for sustaining the responsibility of accessing and providing care and treatment for the mentally ill.

However, humane treatment of the mentally ill truly demands innovative and creative approaches to solving criminalization of such persons and will include instituting policies for diversion from incarceration.

The society is called upon to recognise that the severely mentally ill offender, especially those committing minor offences, are often in need of 24 hours structured care to decrease criminalization. For such individuals in the community, their treatment plan could include medication, therapy, housing, social and vocational training and psycho-educational programmes. In addition, family/caregivers need to be trained to be involved in the management of the client’s behaviour while the client is taught of self-managed aspects of his/her treatment regime.

In other jurisdictions, the Mental Health Court is the newest designed diversion programme. It diverts many high risk clients to treatment.

The programme sometimes involves partner agencies in community supervision, housing, substance abuse and social services as well as community outreach. In other instances, the partnership includes emergency teams consisting of specially trained police personnel, social workers and a mental health professional. A more comprehensive service partnership could include mental health, substance abuse treatment, transportation, housing, financial services, vocation and behavioural skills training as well as intensive case management.

The Department of Community Rehabilitation supports initiatives to divert the mentally ill from the Criminal Justice System. It proposes the creation of partnerships to expand and improve services available in the community to include structured intermediate housing facility, assertive community treatment, training of police personnel, case management and court ordered treatment to support community offender supervision and mental health treatment. Hence, the focus of this year’s Probation and Parole Week.

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