Don't lock them away!
Mentally ill people who commit crimes should not be

Dear Editor,

We see them every day on the streets, in our communities and even in our homes — those labelled as "mad".

Oftentimes they confront members of the security forces and are injured or killed while some who commit crimes are arrested. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has stated that at least 12 people die annually while in State custody and the majority are mentally ill. So is prison really the solution to mental illness in Jamaica?

I make reference to the news story published in the Jamaica Observer on November 1, 2022 titled 'Shocking! Family, residents stunned after woman decapitated; mentally ill son arrested'. Based on the story, members of the community knew that this man had mental issues; however, they were not expecting him to attack and kill his mother. The incident is very tragic but also very unfortunate. On one hand the public craves justice but, on the other hand, the "murderer" is not of sound mind, so what is the solution?

Jamaica has one facility that most people align with mental illness, Bellevue Hospital. In recent times the hospital has received a new 100-bed neuropsychiatric facility to maintain the highest level of operation and service delivery to patients. Of course, services may be accessed at other facilities, but some are private and may not be affordable. This is just one of many solutions.

Prison should never be an option for a person with mental illness who has committed a crime. After all, they are not competent enough to stand trial and may get lost in the prison system for years. Instead, the Government should create and implement a registry that keeps track of all mentally ill people who commit a criminal offence, implement a task force that is responsible for regular check-ins with those on this registry, and develop and implement a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for them. These services should also be extended to members of the general public who suffer from mental illness.

Prison is not the answer. Say no to the mentally ill being locked away behind bars.

Latoya Richards

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