COVID-19 protocol prolongs 16-year incarceration of man unfit to plead

COVID-19 protocol prolongs 16-year incarceration of man unfit to plead

Staff reporter

Friday, July 31, 2020

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FALMOUTH, Trelawny — Dreams of not returning to a Department of Correctional Services (DCS) facility after attending the Trelawny Parish Court were yesterday shattered for homeless mental health patient Morris “Rassimong” Small, who has been languishing in penal institutions since 2004 because he was deemed unfit to plead.

The 68-year-old was thrown behind bars after he was charged for malicious destruction of property, for allegedly smashing the windscreen of a Nissan motor car with a stone in his native Falmouth town in 2002.

Stakeholders sympathetic to Small's cause had largely pinned their hopes on him being accepted at the Trelawny Infirmary in his hometown, but the decision by the Ministry of Local Government to refrain from accepting anyone else at infirmaries — in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 — has, for now, ruled out that option. He was remanded until August 15.

“The Poor Relief Department was quite willing to accept him at the infirmary in Trelawny, but the Ministry of Local Government is of the view that the Disaster Risk Management Orders prohibit an infirmary from accepting new admissions, and the ministry is of the view that it cannot break the order because it would not be in a position to resist any other requests. “A floodgate would open,” said newly appointed Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Commissioner Hugh Faulkner, who recently relinquished the post of executive director of the Legal Aid Council.

“Up to a few months ago, I would have been representing him on behalf of the Legal Aid Council, but because I have been deployed elsewhere, I represent him amicus curiae today [yesterday]... as a friend of the court,” he explained.

The seasoned attorney-at-law disclosed that he will be attempting to convince the local government ministry to give special consideration to accommodating Small, as the DCS facilities have a strict “regime to prevent any contact with inmates and the public, so he is almost coming from a sterile situation into another sterile situation; so he wouldn't be like anybody coming off the streets coming into the infirmary”.

“But I would accept that in transportation, contact would have happened, so I am still asking them to consider whether he could be accepted and you have an isolation period or quarantine period for him,” Faulkner told reporters.

Noting that mental illness is the only illness that results in extended custody, Faulkner made a call for the establishment of a forensic psychiatric hospital in Jamaica.

Small, who refused to speak during the initial part of the court proceedings, spoke for the first time after presiding parish judge Ruth Lawrence informed him of his next court date.

“Weh mi going stay?” he questioned.

To which the judge answered: “Weh you going stay? We will find somewhere. You know say we a try? Is the first time you have talked something so forthright. Oh, Mr Small, you are coming out of your shell and that's good. That is good, Mr Small. Take care. Wow! The first time.”

Faulkner expressed hope that Small will be fit to plead after the outcome of a psychiatric evaluation on August 5. He said the court will be asked to release Small if he is fit to plead.

“When he answered the judge coherently and when he answered my two questions coherently, it gave me hope that his next examination on the fifth of August may bear some fruit, because if he ever comes to court and he is declared fit to plead, that means he is free to go without anybody to receive him,” the attorney said.

“We have tried with the infirmary, we have pursued Bellevue [Hospital], one nursing home in St Catherine [which] seems [to] have closed down. We are also pursuing the Mustard Seed Community and the Court Administration Division has put out ads inviting family members [to come forward]; the court has also sought to use Sunday Contact with Mr Ralston McKenzie, so we are trying every avenue, but if he is fit to plead, then the journey is a little bit easier for Mr Small,” he added.

The new INDECOM boss said Small “would have gone through a number of psychiatric evaluations”.

“His [mental] health has not been very good, so we were quite pleased this morning [yesterday] when I spoke to him, he indicated, 'Yes, mi alright, mon. Mi alright'. I asked him when last he took his medication, he said, 'Yesterday'. I asked him a few other questions [and] he didn't answer. In court he also answered the judge, 'Weh mi a go stay', because he has realised now there is an opportunity coming for him,” Faulkner said.

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