Psychiatric hospital under pressure
by Sandra Downes
The practice of magistrates remanding accused to the Psychiatric Hospital for three-week evaluations is putting a strain on that institution’s resources and even posing a danger to staff.
Senior consultant psychiatrist Dr Beresford “Berry” Connell, who expressed that concern in an interview with Barbados TODAY, also contended that half of those sent to the Black Rock, St Michael facility did not show enough motivation for rehabilitation.
Magistrates sometimes send accused who appear in court on drug charges, or who appear to have mental issues, to the Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation for three weeks.
Dr Connell said not only was that length of time unnecessary, but it was putting pressure on the institution’s human resources and its limited bed space.
“I believe magistrates do this with the best of intentions, but they do not understand what happens when you send a person down here for three weeks,” he said.
“It can be as little as a day, where as soon as the assessment is done the accused can return to prison or on bail and the doctor can also go back to the court with the report,” Dr Connell added, explaining that the ward where prisoners were housed was always in demand, and often there was no room when other patients needed to be transferred there.
Dr Connell explained that once an accused was remanded to the Psychiatric Hospital, he or she must be treated like any other patient. They were therefore allowed telephone calls and regular visits.
However, Dr Connell said that could prove dangerous as he cited one instance in which a remanded patient was found with a knife in his waist after receiving visitors.
The psychiatrist added that while he had no problem “if there is someone with a genuine need for psychiatric evaluation”, he was concerned that some people who were sent from the court just saw the Psychiatric Hospital as “a better option than prison”.
He further lamented that many of the accused had no intention of ending their drug abuse, did not believe they had a problem, and were just there “to spend the time”.
Those are the ones the senior psychiatrist described as people who “cannot be helped because they have not reached rock bottom yet”, and were just taking up space.
While the law provides for an accused person who is, or appears to be, suffering from a mental disorder to be admitted to a mental hospital for a specified time, Dr Connell was concerned about cases in which parents asked magistrates for help for their children who were drug abusers, but the accused themselves were reluctant to be rehabilitated.
The psychiatrist suggested that in order to reduce the pressure on the institution and prevent unnecessary lengthy stays, persons accused of crimes should be assessed by the drug therapist at the Psychiatric Hospital who would then give recommendations on whether they needed to be remanded for a further period.