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His Majesty's Prisons in Kingstown.
His Majesty’s Prisons in Kingstown.
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By Kenton X. Chance

There are about 40 people with mental illnesses, 19 of them detained in connection with murder, being housed in the nation’s prisons.

Informed sources relayed the information to iWitness News this week as we investigated that story of Raybert Charles, of Spring Village, a mentally ill man who is in custody at the Court’s pleasure but whose case the court had not reviewed for 15 years until Tuesday.

Charles was transferred from the Mental Health Centre to His Majesty’s Prison in 2008 on a court order handed down on Nov. 14 that year.

Sources said that the Mental Health Centre does not want to house mentally ill patients who have committed violent crimes, saying that they are not trained to deal with prisoners.

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“They are mixed in with the general population at the prisons and the most that prison warders can do is to try to ensure that they take their medication and speak with the counsellor,” said one source who requested anonymity so as to speak freely on the matter.

The source said that prison warders complain that they are not trained to deal with mentally ill people.

The source suggested that an ideal situation would be either to build a wing at the Mental Health Centre or at one of the nation’s two prisons to house criminals who are of unsound mind.

Such a facility would be staffed by both prison warders, to provide security, and medical staff, to provide the health care that such people would need, the source said.

“What can’t be done, for sure, is to have these mentally ill people who are in prison released onto the streets. It’s either they would kill someone or someone would kill them,” the source said.

The 2008 court order that saw Charles moved to HMP said that he was to be housed at “a secured unit of HMP, until Her Majesty’s pleasure be known”.

The order said that the medical officer shall keep Charles “under special observation, ensure that he receives all the requisite medication necessary for his treatment and take such steps as he considers proper for his segregation from the general prison population”.

However, Kenson King, a warder of 15 years’ experience who was suspended from the job since 2020, questioned the existence of a secured unit at HMP.

“Where exactly is that?” King, an opposition activist who was suspended from his prison job in connection to a charge that he wounded an inmate, said in a comment on the iWitness News Facebook page.

“Medical office? Who is the medical officer the judge was referring to?” said King who was freed of the wounding charge this year, but remains on suspension in connection with charges of uttering seditious words.

“This is just some high class rubbish on the part of the judge. Chupes. You remove him from the institution that he is supposed to be at, to place him at a place where not a single soul is trained to deal with him and his condition. Secure unit my foot,” King said.

Charles, who is in his late 50s, has been in custody for over 40 years and killed another patient at the Mental Health Centre, where he was being housed before his transfer to HMP.

High Court judge Justice Brian Cottle who presided over the review of his case on Tuesday said it is “a very bad indictment on our system, on ourselves” that a citizen in Charles’ situation could be in prison for so long without a review of his case.

The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Charles and that he reappear before the court when the evaluation is completed.

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