Justice for Joe Paraskeva

Submitted by Matthew on 1 December, 2011 - 10:15

Joe Paraskeva is in jail, on an indefinite sentence, essentially for being mentally ill.

In October 2010, he was admitted to psychiatric hospital under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. Joe had a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder and had had several admissions to hospital whilst he was a teenager.

Joe attempted to escape from the ward by trying to burn down the locked entrance to the ward using a lighter and can of deodorant.

He was remanded to prison. On 5 April 2011, Joe was sentenced to an IPP (Indeterminate imprisonment for Public Protection) for arson. The controversial IPP is effectively a life sentence. For those who get out of prison there is a strict regime of state supervision.

The psychiatrist reported to the court that Joe was not suffering from a mental disorder and was culpable for his actions, yet 48 hours previously the same psychiatrist had detained him under the Mental Health Act.

Joe now faces a life under the scrutiny of the probation and psychiatric services.

His mental health problems have since deteriorated whilst in prison. He has been transferred to a medium secure unit in East London, where he will receive treatment. But Joe remains a sentenced prisoner. Joe’s family believe “that Joe needs proper care and treatment in a supportive hospital environment. He should not be being criminalised.”

The case raises many issues about the interaction between psychiatric services and the criminal justice system.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the criminalisation of psychiatric patients is becoming more prevalent. As pressure builds on NHS funds, there is a tendency to offload patients onto other services. Increasingly non-clinical staff such as bed managers or accountants in "Referral Management Centres" override clinical decisions.

In primary care, referral management centres are increasingly blocking NHS patients from getting the care prescribed by their GP.

In psychiatric services, financial pressure may result in attempts to shift costs from the NHS to the criminal justice system, to redraw the boundary between the mad and the bad.

In Joe’s case it is clear that there was a failure of the mental health system to contain the risks that he posed to himself and others at a time when he was particularly vulnerable. It also shows the enormous power given to psychiatrists to determine the fate of those in their care.

Linda Morgan, Joe’s mother is leading the “Justice for Joe” campaign. Apart from immediate goal of appealing against Joe’s sentence, she would like to see “a series of safeguards in place, at the hospital, at all police stations, at all courts and in prisons, to ensure this cannot go on happening. I would like a full investigation and review of how the NHS and the criminal justice system interact when dealing with vulnerable people, such as those with mental health problems.

“In Scotland there are safeguards and I have been told this could not have happened there. There should be an independent advocate whom parent, carers and service users can call on, with power to assess and if necessary question and delay any move from a psychiatric service into the prison system.”

The campaign has recently secured a small victory with the transfer of Joe’s care from prison to a medium-secure hospital. But the IPP sentence remains and Joe is far from securing justice.

Socialists should support all moves for greater accountability in psychiatric services.

• For more information on how to support the campaign visit justiceforjoe.org.uk

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