A man who has been in and out of Cayman’s courts for more than a quarter-century probably will not be back in court anytime soon. Now in his 50s, he is in Northward Prison because he is of unsound mind.
Inmates convicted of a crime have a determined date for their release, but this man was remanded “there to be kept until discharged by order of the Governor.”
Earlier this year, two months before the man’s remand, defense attorney John Furniss told the court that the defendant had been assessed and was not fit to plead. By that time, he had been in custody more than two years. The new charges against him were criminal trespass and damage at a restaurant.
His early court appearances also involved a restaurant. Brought to Cayman as a youth, he was looked after by the family of a man who operated a restaurant, and frequently had his meals there. When the restaurant owner died, the business changed hands, but the defendant still went there for food. After the new owners let him know he was expected to pay, the man broke in and helped himself.
He committed other “nuisance” offenses over the years. Sentences included supervision by a probation officer and a mental health worker, with family members willing to provide a place for him to stay. But he didn’t like having to abide by the ordinary rules of a household and he left.
By 2005, he was in prison for a residential burglary.
The man then appeared before Justice Alexander Henderson. Mr. Furniss asked for an adjournment because he had learned there might be a facility that had been used as a halfway house. He subsequently learned that the premises had been destroyed in Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
At that appeal hearing, Mr. Furniss noted that Cayman does not have a large number of cases like the defendant’s. But there are others who are housed at the prison because they can receive their medications there regularly.
Justice Henderson observed, “One of the signs of mental illness is the belief that you’re not sick and so you don’t take the medication and it’s a vicious cycle.”
He asked the man if he thought he needed to take medication. “No, sir,” the defendant replied. “Sometimes they tell me I have nerves.”
The man next appeared before the late Justice Priya Levers.
Mr. Furniss told her that the defendant received his medication while in prison, but at some point he would need a different structured environment – one from which he could go out to work and come back at night for a roof over his head, food and medication for his bipolar affective disorder. The Crown counsel in court said measures were going to the Legislative Assembly to open a halfway house as part of Probation Services.
“It’s absolutely essential,” Justice Levers replied. “You can’t throw away these people [or] just lock them up. It’s inhumane.”
By November 2005, efforts to find alternative accommodation had been unsuccessful. Because the man had a potential early release date in January 2006, Mr. Furniss advised he would have to abandon the appeal so that it would not interfere.
Mr. Furniss said the Mental Health Unit at the hospital was meant only for short-term stabilization.
Justice Levers pointed out that a case should not have to come to court for society to look after its mentally ill.
In June 2007, he was back in Summary Court, where he pleaded guilty to charges of being an idle and disorderly person for begging outside George Town restaurants. Mr. Furniss said each incident had occurred toward the end of the month, shortly before he received his medication.
The magistrate sentenced the man to 30 days, but wondered if there would be a problem again when the time came for his medication.
In 2010, he pleaded “guilty with explanation” to burglary at a duty-free store. He said he gave some of the jewelry to a Jamaican man and some to a local man in exchange for food. Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale said she had difficulty creating a sentence for someone preyed on by people in the community. The sentence imposed, plus one previously suspended, equalled 27 months.
By 2012, he was back in court for breaking into a car. He made approximately 23 court appearances that year. On one occasion, he refused to stop talking or let the magistrate speak. On another occasion, he gave the name of a movie star instead of his own. A psychiatric report was ordered, but he needed to be stabilized first. He was found not fit to plead.
In 2013, an order was confirmed that he should be remanded to the Mental Health Unit as soon as a bed became available. Two months later, he was fit to plead, but no accommodation had been found and he was still at the unit.
The following month, an apartment was found and his bail was varied, but then he did not appear for his next court date. He was arrested for burglary, pleaded guilty and was released on bail with conditions that included a curfew and attending mental health appointments.
In January 2014, he faced his final charges, with nine court appearances scheduled that year.
In 2015, after being reassessed, he was placed in the informal mental health program. He became upset at yet another magistrate dealing with his case. He was disruptive and had to be taken back down to the cells. Appearances were then arranged from the prison via video link, but he refused to appear.
In May that year, problems arose concerning his immigration status.
Little progress seemed to have been made in 2016, with several court dates noted as “Refused to appear” and one “Unfit to attend.”
In January 2017, he again refused to appear. Mr. Furniss summarized the situation: the defendant was now being treated as a foreign national and if released would not get government assistance; there was no halfway house or secure place where he could stay; even if there were, the Immigration Department was not likely to give him a work permit.
Mr. Furniss noted that the man had again refused to appear in court and it was clear the matter was going to have to go before the governor.
It did. The defendant was found to be of unsound mind and, under section 159 of the Criminal Procedure Code, he was conveyed “to any hospital or other place for the time being appointed under any law to be a mental hospital or for the reception of criminally insane persons, there to be kept until discharged by order of the Governor.”
Northward Prison is a place so appointed.