Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, Senator the Hon. Matthew Samuda, says that the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is seeking to engage a senior psychiatrist to ensure that inmates with mental illness receive proper care.
Minister Samuda was speaking in the Senate on Friday (May 14), where he provided an update on measures being put in place to correct the deficiencies identified in an audit that was commissioned following the death of 81-year-old mentally ill inmate Noel Chambers, while in State care.
The audit was completed in January 2021 and the key findings submitted to the Cabinet.
Senator Samuda said that deficiencies were identified in human resources, particularly medical, and a review was done and an organisational chart prepared by the Medical Unit to provide a strategic road map to address staffing issues.
He noted that the road map was submitted and approved by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service in December 2020 and “we are working to provide for the upgrade in the Specialised and Medical Services Division”.
“It is intended that a cadre of psychiatrists will be led by a notable psychiatrist to provide for requisite assessments and to ensure that we are up to date with our reporting requirements and, indeed, to provide some remedial care,” he said.
Senator Samuda told the Senate that consultations have been undertaken and systems put in place in a bid to improve accountability in the nation’s correctional facilities and reduce the opportunity for another unacceptable case similar to that of Noel Chambers’ arising.
He noted that the DCS is already ensuring that a master listing for the respective courts is prepared and submitted accordingly. He noted that the listing is up to date, with the last one submitted for April 2021.
Senator Samuda said that steps are also being taken to provide for renovations to existing facilities to address overcrowding.
He said that partnership will be leveraged with civil society and non-governmental organisations to undertake the improvements.
He noted that in recognition of the fiscal constraints and the need to urgently address this issue, the Ministry has held talks with Missionaries of the Poor and “we are looking at a project which should be nearing completion soon, to relocate our bedridden inmates in a manner that will allow them to receive the sort of care that they deserve”.
Among the primary findings of the internal audit are excessive delays by courts to request mentally ill inmates to be placed before Magistrates, inadequate medical professionals on staff to provide sufficient care to the mentally ill, no written standard operating procedures (SOP) to guide correctional officers to care for mentally ill inmates; mentally ill inmates being housed among the general population at the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre and at Tower Street, overcrowding of blocks within the facilities, and no established psychiatric wing within penal institutions.