Halfway houses also need support, court hears
The review of a convicted woman’s prison sentence last week turned into a commentary on the lack of proper facilities for defendants with mental health issues.
Justice Charles Quin described the situation as a disgrace.
The 39-year-old woman pleaded guilty to robbery earlier this year and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. She had gone into a restaurant in George Town half-naked, smashed a food case with a machete and demanded a piece of carrot cake. She had then gone to a second restaurant, carrying two machetes, at which she demanded a chicken sandwich. Police arrived shortly to arrest and disarm her.
At her sentencing hearing, Justice Quin stated, “The defendant must receive intensive medical treatment for her mental health and dependency on cocaine, for her own health and safety.” On Thursday, he was checking on what progress she had made since then.
Attorney Fiona Robertson said reports showed there had been significant improvement in the woman’s mental state and behavior generally, and officials at Fairbanks were extremely pleased with her progress.
Justice Quin then read from a report by psychiatrist Marc Lockhart. In the doctor’s view, the defendant and others in her situation need an integrated dual diagnosis program in a single location.
In such a program, treatment includes an addiction counselor, occupational therapist, case manager, social worker, psychiatrist and psychologist all working together to provide well-rounded care, the report said.
Dr. Lockhart, who was present in court last week, added that the problems the defendant first experienced when she went to prison could have been avoided if she had been sent to a proper facility.
He said it was unfortunate that the woman’s problems were seen as just behavioral when 80 per cent of them were the result of her physiological responses to withdrawal from substance abuse.
‘Essential and dire need’
“It highlights the essential and dire need for a proper facility on our island,” Dr. Lockhart said.
The woman’s specialized treatment had required the assistance of her probation officer and the prison staff. But, under current conditions, it would be almost impossible to carry out that type of treatment for every individual who needed it: “We wouldn’t have the manpower,” Dr. Lockhart advised.
“We are all shocked at the current state of affairs,” Justice Quin said. “There seems to be money that can be spent on everything else. I appreciate that times are hard and there are budget constraints, but for the Cayman Islands not to have a mental health institution for cases like [this one] is a disgrace.”
Ms. Robertson said the ‘sticking point” in any decision to release the woman from prison seemed to be accommodation. She said she had made contact with both halfway houses in the community.
One women’s unit was closed down for now because of funding issues; the other was also suffering from funding issues, but in any event was unable to take bipolar cases.
Also in court were the defendant’s probation officer and a relative who was willing to provide accommodation for her in another month.
The probation officer said her department was 100 percent behind the woman’s release from custody once she gets proper housing. “As long as we’re all working together as a team, I think we can … provide the supervision and support she needs in the community.”
The relative agreed that a structured environment was important. “She is some distance from being able to live on her own,” he said.
Justice Quin said everybody working with the defendant knew she was insightful and bright. He observed that her offenses had occurred when she was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
With her permission, he read portions of a letter she had written to the court. She acknowledged breaking the law of the land and bringing shame to her family and herself. Now, with help, she felt considerably better and on the way to kicking the habit of drugs. “I can’t afford or tolerate sickness or jails or institutions any longer,” she said. “I’m determined to stay focused and consistent.”
Justice Quin set the matter for review again in November, by which time it was hoped accommodation would be ready for the defendant.
Along with his comments on the lack of a mental health facility, he noted it was even more sad that one of the halfway houses for women was not because of lack of funding. “It’s a deplorable situation,” he concluded.