You may have heard of Joe Paraskeva, he is the twenty year old bipolar sufferer who is currently facing an indefinite prison sentence with a minimum time of two years behind bars. His crime? Apparently, being mentally ill.
Joe was formally diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder during his teens and spent seven months in an adolescent inpatient unit where he received treatment and support for his condition. However upon turning eighteen he was transferred to adult services and according to his mother received much less support and came off his medication due to the side effects he was suffering. In October 2010 he voluntarily admitted himself to an adult inpatient unit due to his deteriorating condition. The next day he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
And yet after trying to escape (not exactly something that is unheard of or unsurprising considering how scary it can be in an adult ward for the first time) he was arrested and taken from the secure unit to a police cell and subsequently charged with arson.
It was at this point in the story that alarm bells started ringing for me. Here is someone who is young, scared and suffering serious mental health problems including paranoia, surely the best place for him would be a secure unit with specialist mental health professionals and not a police cell which would in all likelihood only make things worse?
And things did get worse. Joe pleaded guilty, offered to pay for the damages incurred and was deemed no threat to society and yet a judge has sentenced him to a minimum of two years in prison based on a report that was written by someone who had never met Joe!
Joe is currently in a Young Offenders Institute, the staff believe he is unwell and the prison psychiatrist has even recommended that he be transferred to a hospital.
What saddens me the most is that Joe’s case is most likely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to young people with mental health problems ending up in the judicial system instead of the mental health system..or not receiving sufficient or early enough care and ending up falling foul of the law. It has been said that 95% of young offenders have a mental health problem and programs such as the recent Strangeways have brought this to the attention of the general public.
Statistics are all well and good but Joe’s case shows the human element, these numbers, these statistics are each young men and women, caught in a vicious trap and incarcerated, these are sons and daughters suffering in prisons and young offenders institutes, desperately in need of mental health treatment, care and support.
We can only hope that the publicity generated by Joe’s case will lead to change not just for Joe but for every young person currently in similar situations up and down the country. After all these are mentally unwell young people being treated like criminals. Is that what we want?
For more information on Joe’s plight read the excellent Guardian article “Why are some mentally ill patients treated like criminals” here:
The site “Justice for Joe”:
Visit the Facebook group and show your support:
And raise awareness on Twitter by using the hashtag #justiceforjoe
First published 3rd June 2011: