Sixteen defendants attended a recent session of the informal Mental Health Court, which is held on a monthly basis. All have been in the court before. At the next court sitting, almost all were expected to return.
They are not in this special court because they have mental health issues; they are there because they have been charged with one or more criminal offenses and either a magistrate or an officer of the court has suspected a mental health problem.
A procedure has been established, although it is not written in any law or regulation. Before the session begins, a team that includes social workers, probation officers and medical personnel meets with a magistrate, usually Valdis Foldats, to discuss each case confidentially. When open court begins, defendants are called in and members of the public may attend. Defendants are generally required to stay for the whole session and learn from other cases.
The Cayman Compass is not identifying the defendants by name, but is assigning each a letter to differentiate between them.
Defendant A is charged with consuming ganja, has been tested for drugs and found to be clean. He has been attending drug counseling meetings as required, so the magistrate congratulates him and tells him to come back on another date as he continues to be monitored.
C faces charges of dishonesty, nothing drug-related, but a test shows ganja in his system. “You’ve got to stop,” the magistrate tells him. “For some people, it messes up their head. For everybody, it’s illegal.”
Then comes the warning. “If you don’t stop, we’ll have to put you in jail. We don’t want to.” The defendant is told to come back the following month.
T is charged with possession and consumption of ganja, and has tested clean. The magistrate reminds everybody that when the court met before Christmas, T was put in the cells for the afternoon because he had tested positive for drugs. “He got the message,” the magistrate points out. T still needs another appointment with a psychologist. For now, he is allowed to leave early. Everyone is the room applauds and T smiles as he heads toward the door.
J comes to court from custody, charged with damaging property and assault. She is waiting to be re-evaluated by a psychiatrist. “Your case is pretty complicated,” the magistrate tells her. One of her problems is getting someone to act as a surety so she can be bailed.
W is in Northward Prison and appears in court via video link. The magistrate reminds him that he was taken into custody because he did not come to court and he cut off his electronic monitoring device. Charged with threats to kill and assaulting police, he awaits an appointment with a psychologist.
Another person is charged with threats to kill, plus causing fear or provocation of violence. The magistrate thanks him for cooperating and taking his drug test, but it has proved positive. “Ganja is illegal,” he repeats. “For some people it affects their head.” The defendant replies, “I have bigger issues. You need to help me out.” After a further exchange, he tells the court, “You’re not pleading my cause. Police tried to drown me.” The magistrate tells him that is a separate issue. He suggests filing a complaint and the defendant says he has already done so. Asked if he has applied for legal aid, the man says he has, so the matter is adjourned.
A woman from that group was sentenced later for burglary, criminal trespass and common assault after 26 months of abstaining from use of any illegal substances.
She was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation so that she could continue the same treatment she had been undergoing – mental health appointments, recovery meetings and random drug tests.
The magistrate said her case files showed she had come to court 35 times. She had been in custody for three months and worn an electronic monitor for 13 months. She attended five recovery meetings every week. She spent time in a halfway house and time on house arrest.
“There were a few remands for drug use, but you got the message very quickly and you decided you wanted to change,” the magistrate said. She had 26 months with no more offending and no more drug use. The magistrate thanked the court team that had been involved in the woman’s treatment – probation officers, nurses, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. “What we tried to do was help you change your future, but it’s your work,” he said.
“I want to continue that for the rest of my life,” the woman replied.