Prison ill-equipped to deal with mentally challenged inmates, prison boss says

Officials at the country’s lone penal institution are appealing for resources to care for mentally ill inmates (File photo)
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

[email protected]

Acting Superintendent of Prisons Jermaine Anthony says the country’s lone penal institution will continue to be transparent and cooperative as investigations into the death of inmate Verel Simon continue.

Simon, who was on remand for the alleged murder of police officer Corporal Clifton Common in February 2021, died in prison on December 22. He was found unresponsive in his cell and the cause of his death has still not been released.

Simon’s family recently called for an inquest to take place and threatened legal action if the appropriate procedures are not followed.

“The prison administration has no public announcement to make on the active and ongoing investigation into the death of Verel Simon, except to say that we have been and continue to be transparent and cooperative with the investigators and the bereaved family,” Anthony told Observer yesterday.

His comment comes on the heels of additional concerns from the public that pertinent information is being withheld.

Some have claimed that there was more to Simon’s death than people have been led to believe.

Simon, who was alone in his cell, was found unresponsive by prison officers, according to Anthony.

“Simon suffered from mental issues and had refused to eat for three consecutive days prior to his untimely death,” Anthony said.

Anthony explained further that the prison cannot investigate itself and police have already interviewed officers and inmates.

“The police are doing what they have to do. We have nothing to hide. I can tell you we had nothing to do with the death of Simon. He went quiet and when we checked he was found dead,” Anthony said.

The issue has again brought the treatment of prisoners with mental illness into sharp focus.

Anthony said the institution is not adequately equipped to care for them.

“Mental illness is an issue for us. We don’t have the resources and the facilities or even the qualified individuals to care for them. I can only continue to appeal for help,” Anthony said.

He contended that, in other parts of the world, prisons have facilities for individuals with mental health issues who have committed crimes.

Such facilities are “set up like a penitentiary but it’s all towards caring for the mental health of the criminally insane people,” he said.

About 10 of the prison’s current population are mentally challenged, two of which are women.

“It’s hard for us. We have to keep them locked up. That’s all we can do. These people have violent outbursts. Officers would exercise restrain when confronted by them but other prisoners won’t restrain,” Anthony said.

That jeopardises the safety of the mentally challenged inmates too, the prison boss explained.

“We have to use what’s available and restraint is what I have. I keep them away from everybody else. Some of them are on medication but there are a few who are awaiting psychiatric evaluation,” Anthony added.

The minister responsible for the prison, Steadroy Benjamin, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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