Jail not right place for men­tally ill

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Speaker’s Corner -

Deputy District Judge No­ble’s re­cent de­ci­sion to jail a young wo­man with de­pres­sion named Philippa Fal­low­field was met with dis­be­lief by Peter­bor­ough res­i­dents. Philippa’s crime has been to cause dis­rup­tion to traf­fic re­peat­edly by threat­en­ing to take her own life. The most re­cent oc­ca­sion oc­curred on a bridge over the A47, the in­ci­dent caus­ing the po­lice to close the road tem­po­rar­ily, de­lay­ing mo­torists’ jour­neys home.

The judge says he felt obliged to jail a wo­man who was in des­per­ate need be­cause: “I have to have re­gard for hun­dreds of mo­torists who were se­verely in­con­ve­nienced by her ac­tions.” His de­ci­sion high­lights sev­eral crit­i­cal prob­lems in Peter­bor­ough, the most ob­vi­ous be­ing how mo­torists are awarded ab­so­lute pri­or­ity. Philippa breached a pre­vi­ous ju­di­cial or­der, so the judge had to do some­thing. But Judge No­ble jails her, ap­par­ently be­liev­ing that the in­con­ve­nienced driv­ing com­mu­nity some­how de­serves this, or re­quires it of him.

We don’t want any per­son dis­rupt­ing traf­fic due to de­pres­sion to be jailed. We’d like Philippa to be re­leased now.

Most driv­ers are de­cent folk who would stop for some­one who clearly needed help. This must be what they did that day. This de­lay was long, but de­lays on the A47 hap­pen ev­ery day. In this case the risk of a fa­tal out­come for Philippa was high, but car­ing peo­ple helped avert it. So why jail Philippa when the best pos­si­ble re­sult was achieved by the large num­ber of peo­ple, in­clud­ing lo­cal emer­gency ser­vices and all those driv­ers who stopped, to help make sure that some­one’s life was pro­tected?

If Philippa had been dis­charged from ef­fec­tive men­tal health care she would not have ended up back in court. Peter­bor­ough does not have an ef­fec­tive men­tal health sys­tem. That isn’t Philippa’s fault.

What men and women who ex­pe­ri­ence se­vere de­pres­sion need are the things you would find in a prop­erly func­tion­ing hospi­tal. A nurse, prob­a­bly med­i­ca­tion, time, se­cure spa­ces, coun­selling and ther­apy, com­pan­ion­ship, ad­vice, train­ing, re­flec­tion, per­spec­tive. Things more akin to nee­dle and thread than to the sledge­ham­mer of a prison sen­tence.

There sim­ply is no ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion for jail­ing Philippa.

Peter­bor­ough is a hot spot of vul­ner­a­bil­ity. The cure is usu­ally other peo­ple: peo­ple who can and must help and sup­port one an­other. Peo­ple who have be­friended a lot of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­pres­sion know the ex­tent to which Philippa is not alone.

But it is im­pos­si­ble to un­der­stand that you are in ex­cel­lent com­pany while you are se­verely de­pressed. Just as it is im­pos­si­ble to com­pre­hend the law or do its bid­ding.

These real­i­sa­tions come only once peo­ple are able to emerge from a cri­sis.

Our wish for Philippa is that re­cov­ery and this real­i­sa­tion come soon. Maybe it will come for her in prison, the right thing even if in com­pletely the wrong place. Yes Yes, she is un­happy and prob­a­bly quite un­well. But she is ab­so­lutely not the prob­lem. Or­gan­i­sa­tions avail­able to h helpl peo­plel i in cri­sisii andd peo­ple sup­port­ing them: The Sa­mar­i­tans 01733 312727; NHS Men­tal Health Cri­sis Sup­port 111, op­tion 2.

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