среда, 5 ноября 2008 г.

Judges stripped of mental health detention powers

IRISH judges are to lose the power to send defendants charged with minor offences to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) for two weeks without hearing any medical evidence.

The power was given to them in a 2006 law, passed when Michael McDowell was justice minister, and has been criticised as "not acceptable in any jurisdiction" by Harry Kennedy, the director of the CMH.

Dundrum's 82-bed forensic-psychiatric facility is vastly over-subscribed as it is the only hospital designated by the 2006 act to take patients from the criminal justice system. Many of its patients have have been convicted of murder or found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Last April, in a letter to the Department of Justice which has been released under the Freedom of Information Act, Kennedy said: "It is not acceptable in any jurisdiction that I know of for the criminal courts to find a person mentally disordered, and commit them to a hospital without medical certification that a mental disorder is present."

The 2006 law provided for the fitness of defendants to stand trial in the district court to be tested, but medical staff say some judges send defendants straight to the CMH without any medical direction.

Kennedy warned the department that if the law wasn't modified, "we will otherwise have a continuation of the present situation where unannounced patients arrive at the hospital with no chance of us arranging an appropriate bed". The CMH would be unable to cope with the number of cases judges were referring to it "even with twice the number of beds", he said.

Earlier this year John Ughamadu, a Nigerian arrested after he slept naked in a nativity crib in Limerick, was sent to the CMH by a district court judge. Ughamadu appealed to the High Court after being held in a garda station for a week because no bed was available in the CMH.

The High Court judge said Ireland may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and, given the lack of beds in the CMH, there needed to be a "plan B" to deal with such cases.

The Department of Justice said last week that amendments to the 2006 act are being finalised with the attorney general. It is expected that the changes will require judges to consult medical experts before sending prisoners to the CMH.

Darius Whelan, a lecturer in law in University College Cork, said judges needed the power to send defendants requiring psychiatric attention to a facility other than the CMH. "The CMH is a high security environment and it doesn't seem appropriate to send people accused of minor offences there," said Whelan.

Before 2006, judges only sent prisoners to the CMH after hearing medical evidence about their condition. "Certification by a consultant psychiatrist from the designated centre is the absolute minimum essential to ensure that no injustice is done through wrongful detention in a psychiatric hospital," Kennedy told the department earlier this year.

Yesterday he said the current system was "contrary to every normal protection of people's rights. There have been many examples of inappropriate use of this law."

McDowell's Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 has been criticised already for other flaws. The Department of Justice already had plans to amend it so CMH patients who are suitable for conditional discharge can be released under licence.

Earlier this month the Mental Health Review Board ordered the first unconditional release of a CMH patient under the 2006 act, after holding 238 reviews. At least 12 other CMH patients could be released once the board is given the power to recall them if they break the conditions of their release.

Pituch said he believed Roberts was his "soul mate" and still thinks and dreams about her "all the time."

"I don't know why," he added.

Roberts, a mother herself, says she has carried a sense of guilt that Pituch may have been looking for her when he stumbled upon Katsnelson. "I know this is not my fault," she said, "but I can't help but feel some sort of responsibility."

Roberts, who had shared one class with Pituch at Shawnee High School, had to look him up in a yearbook when he began calling her out of the blue years later.

As the phone calls grew more bizarre, Roberts eventually recorded one and played it to Evesham Township police, who said they couldn't act on it because Pituch hadn't specifically threatened her.

Neighbors told Roberts that Pituch had come to her former house looking for her on the day before the murders.

"I knew something was wrong," she said. "I knew he was going to do something."

A memorable calculus class

Pituch said that he is currently on medication that's "helping," but that he hasn't received much counseling since being moved out of the prison's psychiatric ward.

Prison officials will not discuss Pituch's medical treatment.

Schizophrenia, Pituch claims, has been prying his grip on sanity ever since he walked into his first college calculus class in 1994 in Ohio.

"Everything was different that day," he said. "Everything was out of time."

Pituch said it appeared that his teacher was wearing a "witch's hat" and was blurting out "black magic." He left the University of Akron a week later.

For the next eight years, Pituch was in and out of mental-health facilities in South Jersey, finding and losing odd jobs and trying to block out hallucinations with prescribed medication or drown them out with alcohol and hard drugs.

Depressed and strolling through the aisles of a South Jersey Wal-Mart one day, Pituch said, he picked up a Metallica album that included a track called "Ronnie."

The song, which describes a "small-town boy" who "lost his way, this bloody day" had been written solely for him, Pituch believes, and the violence that erupted on Oct. 17, 2002, had been preordained in its lyrics.

"I wish I could relive that day, but I can't. I feel terrible about it. Nothing but shame," he said. "I know some people probably think I'm evil, but I don't think so. I feel like I was damned."