It comes amid mounting concern about mentally ill people being kept in prison in very bad conditions, alongside serious criminals, because the Cooks don’t have proper mental health facilities.
The young man Noah Taio has been held in a maximum security cell at the Arorangi Prison for two weeks. “He has had a number of concussions after being involved in bike accidents and this may have affected his brain,” said his defence counsel.
Wilkie Rasmussen advised Justice of the Peace John Whitta that Taio was given razor to shave himself, but tried to harm himself with it.
The news of Taio’s containment comes a day after another mentally ill violent offender, Ricky Carlson, was finally granted bail: his parents pleaded to be allowed to take him home, after seeing the “appalling” conditions in which he was kept at Arorangi Prison.
Rasmussen said police arrested his client, Taio, as a means of protecting the community – but according to the health team, Taio has been through a lot.
His mother and partner begged Rasmussen to get Taio released on bail. The family has been working closely with the Ministry of Health mental health department to refer Taio to New Zealand for treatment, Rasmussen said.
Ministry of Health clinical psychologist Dr Evangelene Daniela-Wong was present in court and advised JP Whitta that a proper report for Taio would be submitted – a prerequisite for his release.
Rasmussen said Taio’s passport was to arrive this week, and he is to leave Rarotonga next week. “He has been in custody several times and if the court agrees for his treatment in New Zealand, he could be held in remand until the transfer, we won’t object.”
He asked the court if the defendant could be allowed the medical treatment once confirmed.
Justice Whitta said the court would not stand in the way of proper treatment.
But for the family’s own good, and the defendant’s, the court could not risk granting bail as he could commit another crime. And this could jeopardise efforts to get him a proper medical examination in New Zealand.
“I would hate to release him and something might happen causing him more stress. He could go today (Thursday) but given the shadow of psychiatric issues he could reoffend.
“We are a week away for his release to New Zealand and I would hate for him to fall apart now.”
Taio faces two counts of breaching probation, two counts of theft, a charge for unlawful taking and contempt of court.
University of the South Pacific director Debi Futter-Puati spoke out against containing mentally ill people in prison.
“Prison is the last place that someone with mental health issues such as addiction should be placed,” she said. “We as a society can do much better than this for our citizens that need help when so unwell.”
She said it was the hope of the group to be able to generate movement with both Cook Islands government and non- government organisations to be able to support the rehabilitation of people in a safe place with proficient and fully trained professionals.
Punanga Tauturu Inc co-ordinator Rebeka Buchanan said the Cook Islands were lucky to have a psychologist on hand. “As long as referral is done properly, immediately, then they can monitor him from the onset.”
She said it was also important to educate and support the family, on how to help and avoid adding to the issues of a young man like Ricky Carlson. “There is a level of risk that the team would be aware of and I hope therapy or counselling is provided.”