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Gullotta calls for removal of mentally ill persons from prisons

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2023 | 12:06 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Carla Gullotta, executive director for Stand Up for Jamaica
Carla Gullotta, executive director for Stand Up for Jamaica

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of Stand Up For Jamaica (SUFJ) Carla Gullotta is renewing her call for authorities to track and release all mentally ill inmates from prison. Some of these persons, she said, are lost in the system.

Her call comes on the heels of a case of suspected suicide at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston on September 11 involving mentally challenged inmate Leroy Bailey.

Prison authorities reportedly found Bailey motionless in a standing position during a head count at the George Davis Centre, which houses mentally challenged inmates.

There is also another issue surrounding whether or not Bailey should have been in prison as he had been listed on the governor general’s pardon list.

Gullotta is urging the authorities to step in before another incident of a similar nature occurs.

“My call is for a mechanism which brings to prison somebody which is fit to plead,” Gullotta remarked. “If he is not fit to plead, why is he fit to pay the price for something?”

She also noted that Bailey was on the governor general’s list for pardoning, up to 2020.

“So, basically, for exactly 19 years. It’s a very complicated situation. Governor general lost his portfolio so those which were on the list ... they were supposed to be transferred from GG at the court’s pleasure,” she said.

“He (GG) was not anymore responsible for those inmates and they should be transiting through the court’s pleasure, but nobody knows how to do that. Those inmates should sign a request, and they are not fit to plea, so they could not sign a request, so they were lost,” Gullotta told The Gleaner.

Gullotta said Bailey numbered among several others lost in the system.

“When I started to look at the situation was four years ago when there was the Indecom report. At that time, there were 340 mentally ill-detained,” Gullotta shared.

The Indecom report in question was published in 2020 following the death of Noel Chambers on January 27 of that year.

Indecom said that there were concerns of possible breaches of fundamental human rights in the detention of persons at “pleasure” arising from the death of Chambers, who had been in prison for 40 years without being tried.

The commission initiated a wider enquiry into conditions under which persons fit or unfit to plead are being held and the procedures afforded to them while held at the governor general’s pleasure, or court’s pleasure, or unfit to plead awaiting trial.

On Tuesday, Gullotta said that she sympathises with the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) because they cannot manage.

“This (task) does not belong to them. They can’t deal with it. The full correctional services has two or three psychiatrists. How can they manage it?” Gullotta challenged.

The Gleaner’s probe into this incident unearthed that Bailey was from Cascade District in St Ann.

He was accused of killing his father.

CONFUSION RE PRISON STATUS

There, however, appears to be confusion surrounding Bailey’s prison status after Indecom stepped in to probe his death.

“The superintendent of prisons is saying yes, he was convicted, but Indecom is saying otherwise. The prisoner card says he was convicted of murder in 1999 after trial in St Ann. Indecom has a list with his name saying he was not tried. He was just languishing in prison for over two decades,” a source close to the probe said.

Gullotta said after the 2020 Indecom report, SUFJ was trying to take out some of the inmates but stumbled on all sorts of issues.

“We were not very successful because it was so difficult to get out one of them. When we plan to take out 24, we were only able to take out four or five. All of them were detained more than 30 years,” Gullotta said.

“It was hard to get a docket, folders were lost, there was a hurricane, and one institution was flooded, and also, they needed a family member willing to sign for them,” she further shared.

She said that after such a long time, family members were relocated or had migrated.

“The new generation did not know who they were, so it has been the most frustrated thing because we have been investing ... money to do that, to get small results,” Gullotta said.

She admitted that since then, the Ministry of Justice has given its legal aid section some money to assist with the release of some inmates.

“They were not very successful, too. I think they got out three, four in all,” Gullotta said.

She told The Gleaner that over the past year, a few of them are being held at Tamarind Farm, where an infirmary was opened by the Government.

She also admitted being unaware of how many mentally ill prisoners are being detained.

“It is very unfortunate. Mr Bailey is one of the ones on the governor general’s list, so how could he have been sentenced? He could have been sentenced in 2022 or 2023, but the amount of time he spent in the prison is overwhelming, much more than what he should have been sentenced to if he was guilty,” Gullotta said.

She said someone who is mentally ill does not understand what they are doing or have done, and that is why SUFJ is constantly advocating that someone who is mentally ill should not end up in a prison.

In underlining her plea, Gullotta told The Gleaner: “To make a robust change of policy recognising that somebody which has mental illness is not fully capable to be responsible for what he does and, therefore, should not end up in a courthouse to go to a correctional institution, he should be assessed to see what kind of mental disease, and according to his illness, should end up in an institution, where he is cured.,