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Wolffe: Prison is not the answer

The island’s top magistrate said that it was “beyond comprehension” that he had to incarcerate a man in order to help him with his mental health and drug problems.

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe added that is was “absolute madness” that an offender like defendant Paul Williams had to be in prison for at least three years in order to attend a 12-month rehabilitation programme.

He said: “So in order for us to get Mr Williams the help he needs, I have to step on his legal and constitutional rights and give him a sentence that far exceeds that which he should have?

“Just think about the logic of that: a person who’s afflicted with a disease, an identifiable disease with an undisputed diagnosis, cannot do a programme for 12 months unless he’s incarcerated for three years.

“It’s just ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Williams, 40, pleaded guilty yesterday to theft, damaging property and trespassing on his mother’s property on three separate occasions.

Magistrates’ Court heard that Williams stole a $450 television from the Southampton home of Paulette Godfrey, his mother, on May 3.

Ms Godfrey contacted the police and asked Williams to return the television, to which he complied.

Williams returned to the property again later that evening but was arrested by police at the scene.

Mr Wolffe also heard that the defendant entered the property on April 25 and 26, but took nothing.

He was told that Williams broke a window on April 26, as well as the padlocks on a refrigerator and deep freeze.

Williams appeared before Magistrate Maxanne Anderson for the matters on May 6 and was sent to drug treatment court.

Prosecutors said that Mr Williams was not suitable for community service and could not be admitted into residential treatment centres to get help.

Charles Richardson, Williams’s lawyer, also said that the prison system had the only resources on the island that could give his client the help that he wanted.

He added: “Your Worship knows better than any that we’ve had to lock people up in order to get them the help that they need.

“I hate to agree with my learned friend, but yes, the best option for Mr Williams might be 12 months in prison so that he’d qualify for the Right Living House and then probation.”

But court staff told Mr Wolffe that Williams would only be eligible for the Right Living House programme if he served a minimum of three years.

The senior magistrate “strongly” ordered that Williams participate in the programme in spite of this.

Mr Wolffe sentenced Williams to 12 months imprisonment for each offence, which will run concurrently.

He also sentenced him to two years’ probation and ordered that he stay away from drugs and alcohol, attend court services when required and get psychiatric help.

Mr Wolffe told the court that it was “a sad indictment on our community” that there were not proper resources to help Williams.

He said: “Prison is not the answer. I’ve been saying since time immemorial that we need a facility that can properly deal with persons such as the defendant, because if we don’t then we’re going to continue to perpetuate this cycle.

“The criminal justice system — and indeed the mental health machinery — has let down or is letting down Mr Williams.”

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.