Mentally-ill patient in prison worries Judge

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson disturbed that a mentally ill patient is held in the same room as other custodies.

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson disturbed that a mentally ill patient is held in the same room as other custodies.

BY Alan Ah Mu

APIA: TUESDAY 1 OCTOBER 2013: A defendant who takes anti-psychotic medication is amongst those placed in custody at Tafa’igata Prison.
This disturbs Supreme Court Judge Justice Vui Clarence Nelson.
While no expert on the matter, said Justice Nelson, it seems to him it was a recipe for trouble.
“If the ‘mental health patient’ is to be jailed as the prosecution recommends, where at Tafa’igata Prison will he be held?” he asked prosecution yesterday.
“Placing such patients in prison has led to very bad outcomes,” he said.
The prosecution would have to satisfy the court as to where the defendant will be held if sentenced to jail, the Judge said.
Earlier he questioned the defendant at length to establish if the guilty plea to a serious charge was understood amongst other things.
“Why does your hand shake like that?” he asked the defendant who was unrepresented by a lawyer.
One of the defendant’s hands shook involuntarily.
It just did, he told the Judge.
When the defendant expressed remorse, he was asked, “Who told you to say that?”
He said it was his own reply.
Justice Nelson was satisfied the defendant had understood him but other aspects of the case did not.
The defendant can’t be treated the same as other defendants with sentencing tailored accordingly, he told Prosecution, who wants consideration of penalty to start from eight years imprisonment.
“I need some more information about this man,” the Judge said.
Sentencing was set for 15 October.
The issues raised by Justice Nelson on Monday underlines now well-known problems with locking up the mentally-ill at Tafa’igata Prison either as prisoners, custodies or referrals from Ministry of Health.
For lack of space Health has no option but to ask Police to remove such patients, aggressive ones in particular, to the prison.
No facility exists there for the mentally ill except cells.
Two have died there in recent years to much publicity, perhaps the “very bad outcomes” Justice Nelson referred to.
There is doubt patients are given the medication they need there – even if the sort of medicine required is known.
No medical staff is based there.
On recent evidence prison wardens are given a crash course on their job and rely on relationships based on Christian and cultural principles with inmates who outnumber them 1:30.
Handling offenders with a mental condition are outside their scope of expertise.
A Commission of Inquiry is several weeks into an investigation of Tafa’igata. Proper facilities are needed for mentally ill patients transferred from hospital acting Assistant Commissioner at the prison, Tuna’imati’a Fa’a’esea Lautala, has told the commission.
Overcrowding at the three rooms allocated for defendants placed in custody at Tafa’igata to await their next court appearance is regular.
Senior Sergeant Kerisiano Lale, Acting Second in Command at the prison told the Commission of Inquiry last week the custodies may only be allowed out of their rooms when they have a visitor.
No reference was made to a situation which now exists there, perhaps not for the first time: a custody in need of anti-psychotic medicine locked up with others for hours on end, in perhaps an overcrowded room.
Whether that custody is receiving medication in doses and in regularity required is unknown.