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Correctional services worried about attempted suicides

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 22, 2014    

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THE Department of Corrections has admitted that it is challenged by incidents of attempted suicide in both adult and juvenile institutions under its watch.

According to a report presented to a meeting of the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament yesterday, the department said that in recent months three adults (two females and one male) and 14 wards (three females and 11 males) attempted suicide.

The department, whose team was headed by Major General Stewart Saunders, permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, said it, however, "recognises the need to build capacity to manage the psycho-social needs of inmates and wards".

It said suicide or self-harm was included in the training programme for the last two intakes of correctional officers, and also reported that presently mental health services are provided by three sessional psychiatrists and psychological services by one sessional and two full- time psychologists.

The issue of suicide behind bars took front and centre for weeks following the November 21, 2012 suicide of teenager Vanessa Wint at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston. Also in January of last year, some four underage girls from the same institution were hospitalised after overdosing on antidepressant tablets.

In the meantime, the department has admitted that although it tries to meet the needs of mentally ill inmates it does not have adequately trained staff, appropriate infrastructure and an environment conducive to effectively treat and rehabilitate them. It said those who are "unfit to plea are particularly vulnerable".

The department said since there is no determinate sentence they must remain until they are deemed fit and brought back before the court.

There are some 264 mentally ill inmates of the total inmate population of 3,281 as at January 10 this year. Some 80 are unfit to plea.

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