Mentally ill teenager held in jail

Phathiswa Adam is relieved her son has been released. Picture: Brian Witbooi

Mother’s battle to have son released highlights care facility crisis in E Cape

The locking up of a teenage psychiatric patient at St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth instead of at Grahamstown’s Fort England Psychiatric Hospital has blown the lid off a human rights crisis in the province as the Department of Health admits there are almost 300 people in the same situation.

Even though Awonke Adam, 19, of Kwazakhele, is mentally disabled and has speech and hearing impediments, he was kept at St Albans – where he was beaten, robbed and abused to the point that he tried to commit suicide by hanging himself.

Awonke should have been treated at Fort England Psychiatric Hospital – the only dedicated secure mental health facility for state patients in the province.

Judge Gerald Bloem ordered his release on Tuesday last week pending a hearing in September into the constitutionality of keeping state patients in prison while they await institutionalisation or observation.

Keeping psychiatric patients in jails is globally regarded as a gross human rights violation and specifically stated by the World Health Organisation as a practice that should be abandoned.

The DA’s Celeste Barker said she would be reporting the matter to the health ombudsman.

“The incarceration of state patients in prisons is inhumane and careless,” Barker said.

“It violates patients’ rights to treatment and exposes fragile patients to risk, violence and abuse.

“The Eastern Cape Department of Health appears to have selective amnesia. Have they forgotten the Life Esidemeni crisis?”

Legal Aid SA, representing Awonke’s mother, Phathiswa Adam, argued before court that the department either had no policy, or at the very least no sustainable policy, to deal with the crisis.

At least another 260 psychiatric patients in the province are being held in prisons while awaiting observation. Another 95 are awaiting beds at Fort England.

Health MEC Pumza Dyantyi said in a presentation to parliament in March that the province had a shortage of 1 600 mental health beds.

Patients needing observation have to wait on average 20 months and those needing placement at Fort England wait nine months.

 

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