Opinion: Troubled defendants

POSTED: 11/29/12 3:07 PM

There he was again, Martino H., a 33-year-old accused of eight burglaries and attempted burglaries. Talkative as ever and full of good intentions. But this defendant has serious psychiatric problems. Not only does he not belong in a court room, he does not belong in the Pointe Blanche prison either. But yet, that’s exactly where he is right now and if nothing changes, he is likely to stay there for quite some time.

Martino is schizophrenic. Forget what he did: the man needs treatment, and that is apparently hard to come by.

Turning Point is the place to go for addiction treatment. The Mental Health Foundation is the place to go for psychological and psychiatric treatment. But for people who have and an addiction and psychological or psychiatric problems, there is nowhere to go.

Martino’s attorney Shaira Bommel put her finger on it again yesterday. Turning Point does not take in clients with a so-called double diagnosis, and neither does the Mental Health Foundation.

By now it is an old story, but that does not help the people who are caught in the middle. The assumption “previously (when St. Maarten was still part of the Netherlands Antilles) we had Capriles,” does not make sense at all, not even in Curacao, where the system also falls hopelessly short of offering facilities for addicts and people with psychological or psychiatric disorders. Even when the government is prepared to pay for it, there is no place in Capriles for, for instance, a seven-week observation program that two young boys who are suspected of raping their baby sisters badly need.

The Amigoe reported this week about James Murray, who was convicted to life in prison in 1979 for murdering 6-year-old Darley Lai. Murray has spent by now 33 years in jail (in Aruba, by the way) and he has never received any treatment for what experts have labeled his anti-social personality.

This example shows that prison is not the place to be for people suffering from a disorder.  We’re not saying Murray does not belong in prison, we’re saying that he has been neglected for 33 years as a mental patient.

In spite of all this, our politicians are making more noise about their desire for tougher prison sentences – ignoring the fact that those sentences are already tough; how blind can you be? – than about the need for decent psychiatric care and addiction treatment.

There was another defendant on the court schedule yesterday who also falls in the troubled-category. Only sixteen years old and already convicted twice for armed robbery and weapons possession. It makes one wonder where the system went wrong, why someone so young arrives at repeatedly committing such horrible crimes.

It is all good and well to want to fight crime though environmental design – which is, in itself, an excellent initiative – but if our decision makers keep focusing on the end of the line (where crime happens) and keep ignoring the source (where the causes of crime flourish) we will never get anywhere.

Of course, we have to work with limited budgets. And while this forces politicians to make choices (like supporting a TV network birthday bash with a $400,000 subsidy) the question becomes legitimate and also more urgent as time goes by, whether these are the right choices. Next time someone with a psychiatric disorder robs a law-abiding citizen with a thirst for tough justice – because the robber is blissfully unaware of the consequences of his actions – said citizen might spontaneously discover the need to think a bit more about this question.

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