The prisoners targeted for closer monitoring are those who have displayed signs of depression or of being prone to taking their own lives.
The action was revealed yesterday by Prisons Commissioner Conrad Barrow in the aftermath of suicides by 24-year-old murder accused, Kevin Hospedales, on Wednesday and another inmate, Akeem Gill, three weeks ago who was serving a sentence for robbery. Both men died by hanging themselves in their cells at the remand facilities of the Golden Grove Prison and the Maximum Security Prison respectively.
The Prisons Commissioner told Newsday there is a system in place to deal with prisoners confessing to depression. He said mental health nurses and counsellors have been paying close attention to those prisoners, but he added that Hospedales and Gill did not indicate they were depressed nor did they demonstrate that they were suicidal.
Barrow said, “Any death is of concern to the prison authority, but we have a procedure in place that if a prisoner displays depression or tendency to commit suicide, we normally have a procedure that we put them under a suicide watch and we have counsellors and other workers to assist.”
He did not elaborate on whether those prisoners are assigned a specific counsellor or nurse round the clock.
Barrow said the prisons authorities believe Hospedales bided his time, and knew what he was doing. On Hospedales’ action, Barrow said, “We believe that it was premeditated.”
An autopsy carried out at the Forensic Science Centre, St James, yesterday confirmed Hospedales died by hanging and there were no signs of foul play.
According to Barrow, there are over 1,000 prisoners at the Remand Section of the Golden Grove Prison and he added that those prisoners are taken for airing out in groups. On Wednesday, the prisoners from the southern wing where Hospedales was housed were taken out for airing but that inmate opted to remain in his cell.
The Commissioner said in cases where prisoners remain in their cells, the prisons officers make rounds to ensure that all is well with them. He pointed out, however, that if a person wants to take his own life they would do so at all cost.
Asked by Newsday if Hospedales had reported to any of his officers about being suicidal or depressed, Barrow said that information is not made available to either him or anyone within the prison.
Newsday understands the police are now treating Hospedales’ death as a suicide and no further action is required in this matter. With respect to Gill who died by hanging on August 19, police have also determined that his death was a suicide.
The Prisons Commissioner also seized the opportunity yesterday to dismiss reports that another prisoner had committed suicide at the Port-of-Spain Prison on Wednesday. He did admit that prisoners had been complaining about the slow pace of the judicial system in having their matters expedited.
Also yesterday president of the Psychiatrists Association Dr Varma Deyalsingh told Newsday what may be occurring at the prisons could be a case of “copy cat” suicides.
“If one person commits suicide there may be a copy-cat behaviour occurring where another person might think of suicide as a way out,” Deyalsingh said, “So the suggestion really for the first stage of incarceration (is that) some prisoners need to be psychologically assessed where they will need to know if they require a psychologist, a mental health officer and if needs be a psychiatrist.” Deyalsingh noted that the whole traumatic prison experience could lead to depression stepping in which could lead to suicide.
Deyalsingh feels the prisons authorities need to implement measures of assessment as soon as possible and deal with prison conditions as well such as allow prison authorities to work closely with the police and the judicial system to ensure that cases are expedited and that prisoners have their matters dealt with in the shortest possible time.
The psychiatrist believes Hospedales may have thought about suicide and his death may have been premeditated, but he also feels that if the authorities knew the inmate was suicidal, the necessary support could have been given to him to end any further frustration.
Deyalsingh also noted that it is sometimes difficult to assess some prisoners, but he added that it was important to do checks to ascertain if a prisoner may have had mental health problems prior to incarceration.
On another note Deyalsingh said, “The conditions at the prison are not amenable to help those persons who are incarcerated because when the conditions are deplorable it can be to the deterioration of the mental health of the person, and just having a prison sentence read to you is referred to as a psychological trauma where you go through certain periods of shock, denial and blame.”
Deyalsingh explained that sentencing gives one “that first stress level” which most people will go through and in which there is denial, bargaining, then acceptance, and depression. He added that when persons go through the prison system and they are dealing with the conditions of the prison where they have no family support and where they feel that their life is threatened, that adds to psychological trauma.
Deyalsingh said some persons go through a period of depression and feel suicide is the only way out.
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