It should be noted that mental health care is far from perfect in first world countries when it comes to addressing the needs of insane offenders but what entails in a promising nation like Nigeria needs urgent diagnostic study with the outcomes aggressively put to full implementation and usage.
It is an undeniable fact that mentally disturbed persons with substance abuse disorders have more extensive criminal problems and demonstrate a higher level of risks and needs when compared with persons with mental illness alone.
In comparison to another emerging nation like Ghana with a comprehensive Mental Health Act of 2012, the existing Mental Health Act of 1959 from Britain remains in place in Nigeria followed by here and there formulated mental health policies of the 1990’s especially.
As such the vulnerable like the mentally ill criminal offenders are cut out from modern and commonsense ways to approach their custody and care;instead a person deemed to be a civil lunatic as described by British lingo and others with mental and criminal backgrounds fill up our custodial spaces such as police cells, and prisons minus the jail system which does not exist in Nigeria.
All this is happening as there are no legally or reasonably bound provisions for interaction between the mental health system and the Criminal Justice outfits.
A current observation of how mental health service is provided to the criminally insane offenders shows that the federal government under the leading role of the healthcare decision makers continue to lack the basic practice of forensic psychology in regards to the application of scientific, procedural, or specialized knowledge of psychology to the criminal justice system for the benefit of mental health consumers.
By law and policy, all the regional psychiatric teaching/specialist and general hospitals lack forensic hospital facility or units. The nation lacks forensic based evaluation and treatment centers like public forensic hospitals. Our police, judiciary and the courts and the prison system who are still in their old ways due to dearth of extant or current mental health laws/policies, lack guidance on forensic based healthcare services.
Consequently,the provision of quality assessment and treatment of patients with criminal status remain wholly poor and inadequate.
We have no system designed to fully integrate forensic based treatment and security in behavior management environments, thereby jeopardizing the safety of patients, staff, and the general public.
We have no designated system or facility that offers a wide range of health care services for people who need emergency mental health care around the country.
Since the Federal Ministry of Health is the foundation for the sustainability of quality healthcare and upright governance in the nation, it should serve fully as the main watch dog in the society that protects the mentally ill especially those with legal challenges.Under an atmosphere of collaborative spirit between the Federal Ministry of Health and the criminal justice system, the courts especially, workable and measurable strategies for effective and humane management of the mentally ill offenders are needed now.
President Muhammadu Buhari continues to emphasizes to Nigerians to expect more commonsense approach to issues such as mental healthcare, therefore let us see meaningful and updated policy change and practices by the government and attitudinal modification in our criminal justice system in order to reverse the current plight of the mentally disturbed persons and those with substance abuse disorders marked with criminal acts.
Dr. John EgbeazienOshodi, a Florida Forensic/ Clinical Psychologist writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Jos5930458@aol.com
This article was originally published on January 4, 2016 in The Nigerian Voice Online Newspaper.