Mentally ill defendants ‘need care, not courts’
People with mental health issues who commit crimes need care not the courts, a leading lawyer has claimed.
Elizabeth Christopher said she was frequently asked to represent mentally ill people who are pushed through the judicial system instead of being treated for their problems.
Ms Christopher, who is the president of the Bermuda Bar Council, said: “The court system isn't equipped for this. The magistrate isn't equipped for this because he cannot direct people to do what they have to do and I cannot get a magistrate or a judge to direct people to do what they have to do.
“We need to grab the bull by the horns.”
She added: “There needs to be a secure unit where people can be treated and kept out of the justice system and where there can be strategies geared towards that.”
Ms Christopher spoke after one of her clients, Khayriek Woolridge, was kicked out of a group home run by the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute as part of an investigation into an assault and property damage.
With nowhere else to go, he was sent to Westgate Correctional Facility on Monday, having been in the group home for two weeks.
The 27-year-old had been ordered to receive two years' treatment at MWI for exposing himself to a girl under the age of 14.
Yesterday, Ms Christopher said that people who did not get the proper treatment for their mental health issues could be stuck in a cycle of antisocial behaviours.
She added that she, and other defence lawyers, frequently struggled to get many clients the help that they needed.
Ms Christopher said: “I feel like we all kind of have our adoptive clients and we're trying to minimise the impact of the state on them.
“It's frustrating because you can only do so much.”
Ms Christopher said that the worst instance she had seen was when she represented the late Lorenzo Robinson, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
In 2004, he was sent to a maximum-security hospital cell at Westgate after he was cleared of attempted murder by reason of insanity. Four years later, the 28-year-old died by suicide.
Ms Christopher said that although help for people with mental health issues had improved since then, “until you have a facility for proper therapy we're really just marking time”.
Regarding the case of Mr Woolridge, a spokeswoman for the Bermuda Hospitals Board said: “While we are not able to comment about an individual's needs or care publicly, we would stress that MWI works as part of an inter-agency team to find solutions for clients, including this case.
“Bermuda is limited, as it does not have forensic inpatient services for people who have intellectual disabilities because such a service is needed so rarely.
“Creating solutions for individuals outside of existing services takes time, but the inter-agency team continues to work hard to address gaps in local services and seek the best solution for the individual that ensures safety and appropriate support.”
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