Treatment, not jail for Jamaica’s mentally ill

JAMAICA, Kingston – Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the Government is looking to provide alternatives to incarceration for non-violent persons primarily with substance use and/or psychiatric disorders.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton

He said the Ministry has made recommendations for the development of a range of interventions in this regard.

Dr Tufton noted that an audit of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre last year revealed that of the 1,550 persons incarcerated at the time, 203 had been diagnosed with mental illness.

“The goal is for persons with a mental illness to be diverted to treatment and services in the community instead of entering the justice system, and for the prevention of re-entry into the system by mentally ill offenders,” he said.

The Health Minister was speaking at the launch of a research paper on incarcerated persons with mental illness, dubbed ‘Through the Cracks’.

The comparative research report on strategies used to address the rights of mentally ill individuals in Jamaican prisons, completed by Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) in August, was funded by the European Union through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) country-based support schemes in Jamaica and Belize.

Dr Tufton said the research is timely and in keeping with the Government’s thrust to raise awareness and eliminate stigma regarding mental illness through its ‘Speak Up, Speak Now’ campaign.

“It lines up with our plans under the National Strategic Plan for Mental Health 2020 to 2025, to assess the barriers that vulnerable and at-risk groups face in accessing mental healthcare and to inform the training of health and social care staff that will enable them to better care for vulnerable and at-risk groups,” he noted.

Further, the Health and Wellness Minister pointed out that the research provides vital data that can inform mental health plans, budgets and programmes, as well as prepare options for alternative approaches and provide advice to the Government on effective resource allocation to community mental health service.