Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams has disclosed that the government is actively pursuing ways for improved treatment of mentally ill persons in the prisons.
This is being done with support from the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB).
During a meeting with reporters earlier this week, Williams underlined the importance of addressing cases of mental illness in the justice system, particularly those who are imprisoned.
“You’ve seen some really heinous acts and the ordinary person may think that that person must be crazy and some people might say they are invoking the defence of insanity. So we need to address those issues,” he stated.
According to Williams, as part of its efforts the Government is engaging a consultant under an Inter-American Development Bank project and a report will be submitted shortly. The consultant is expected to prepare a report and make recommendations on how to proceed with the programme designed to look at mental health of prisoners.
There are a number of cases engaging the attention of the court for mental health evaluation.
Earlier this year the British High Commission of Guyana through the Security Sector Review Programme, hosted a comprehensive training programme for Prison Officers on how to handle mentally ill inmates and other vulnerable groups. The training is being facilitated through the non-profit organisation CreateBetterMinds, with two experts in the areas of mental health. During the programme Director of Prisons, (Ag) Gladwyne Samuels, highlighted the fact that some 75 mentally ill inmates in the prison system.
Samuels said that most of the 75 inmates were housed at the Camp Street Prison, but were all dispersed to other prisons following the 2017 prison unrest.
He recalled that inmates who received treatment from the Mental Health Department of the Georgetown Public Hospital continue to receive treatment on a regular basis.
“I see this training as a step in the right direction — that will make us more equipped, and help us to identify persons with special needs and those deemed vulnerable, so that they can be adequately catered for. The Prison Officers and Police (ranks) are expected to pass on the knowledge,” Samuels added.
The Prison Director has said that despite their challenges, these inmates are part of the general prison population. He emphasized their need to be treated with the same respect as others.
“They ought to be protected from bullying, because, in a prison environment, if someone is deemed weak, several things could happen. They can be made to wash people’s clothes, which is a violation of their rights; their food can be taken away by persons who are stronger,” he said.
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