Matthew Samuda says 262 inmates have been diagnosed with mental disorders – Jamaica Observer

Senator Matthew Samuda, Minister without Portfolio at the Ministry of National Security

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security (MNS), Matthew Samuda, said about seven percent of the current prison population is made up of people who are unfit to plead in court.

Speaking at the annual State of the Nation debate in the Senate on Friday, Senator Samuda said more careful treatment was needed for the 262 inmates who have been diagnosed with mental disorders.

However, he said the Department of Corrections (DCS) has been authorized to hire a consultant forensic psychiatrist, who will design and oversee a forensic mental health care program.

“Mental health remains a major barrier to providing adequate care to these inmates. There are also prisoners who need a deeper and more attentive level of care. About 262 inmates have been diagnosed with mental disorders, of which 138 are unfit to plead, which represents about 7% of the prison population,” he said.

“However, this figure primarily represents people with psychotic disorders; we know that a greater proportion of them suffer from less apparent psychiatric disorders that go undiagnosed. Global studies suggest that incarcerated people are 2-3 times more likely to have a mental disorder and 15 times more likely to have a psychotic disorder than the general public,” he told the Senate.

Senator Samuda said there remain major obstacles to providing adequate care to these detainees, as those deemed unfit to plead have essentially been detained indefinitely as they are unable to stand trial and complete the court process.

“Jamaica’s correctional system, however, is not currently geared to the proper care of the mentally ill as it has deficiencies in staffing, programs and physical infrastructure to ensure adequate treatment of medical conditions and the eventual assessment and reintegration of those unfit for advocacy, detainees and convicts into society,” he noted.

“The DEC is a ‘Creature of Instruction’. It must provide adequate care to persons sentenced or remanded in custody by the courts. I can assure members of the Senate and, indeed, the public that DCS meets its legal and moral obligations to provide reports to the courts, while taking the necessary steps to seek the release of the mentally ill when deemed appropriate,” said he declared.

However, he assured the Senate that DCS will continue to work to improve care within the system.

“The DCS has been authorized to hire a consultant forensic psychiatrist, who will design and oversee a forensic mental health care program. But beyond that, we have begun the process of undoing a tragic mistake made in the 1970s, when the government of the day closed a forensic ward that housed inmates in need of psychiatric care,” did he declare.

“Our ministry has started the planning process with the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to reopen a full-fledged forensic service, which is to be completed during this term,” did he declare.

Henry Balford

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