Jail not right place for mentally ill
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.