Gov’t strengthening mental health services for persons behind bars 

The Ministry of Health and Wellness is partnering with the Ministry of National Security on a range of interventions aimed at strengthening support for persons behind bars who suffer from mental illnesses.

Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, made the disclosure at the launch of a research paper on incarcerated persons with mental illness, dubbed ‘Through the Cracks’, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Regional Headquarters in St. Andrew on Wednesday (November 6).

He said the measures include employing additional mental health staff to address the psychosocial issues of offenders as well as providing early diagnoses and treatment of those who become mentally ill while incarcerated.

He noted that the Ministry is looking into training correctional officers in the management of the mentally ill as an interim measure until a full cadre of mental health staff, including psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nursing aides, is in place.

In addition, coordination will be established with the appropriate parish community mental health teams to ensure close monitoring and follow-up care after a sentence is served and during the probationary period, to prevent reoffending.

Dr Tufton said that recommendations have been made for the provision of alternatives to incarceration for non-violent persons, primarily with substance use and/or psychiatric disorders.

“These programmes may include Drug Treatment Court, Mental Health Court, Case Management and Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams on which some work has already begun,” he indicated.

Dr Tufton said the report of the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development, published in 2018, points out that incarcerated persons are included in the vulnerable populations at increased risk of having mental health problems.

“This makes it especially important for us to enhance community mental health services in line with the 2020 to 2025 strategic plan to provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social care while boosting resource planning and stakeholder collaboration,” he said.

Through the Cracks is a comparative research report on strategies to address the rights of mentally ill persons in Jamaican prisons.

The research, completed by Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) in August 2019, was funded by the European Union through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) country-based support schemes in Jamaica and Belize.