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Psychiatric condition and deprivation of liberty. HFHR intervenes in case of schizophrenia patient detained on remand

HFHR has intervened in the case of a young man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who was put in pretrial detention. Over the period of four months so far spent in custody, the man’s mental health reportedly deteriorated significantly.

Julian’s case

Julian is a young man, a third-year student of English studies at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Until recently, he had no criminal record. For several years, Julian has been struggling with paranoid schizophrenia. Thanks to appropriate treatment, he was able to properly function in the society.

On 31 March 2017, he was arrested on several charges, including the stalking of his former partner. In the period of detention, his health significantly deteriorated: he presented acute psychotic episodes and was transferred to a prison hospital ward.

After three weeks, a court lifted the detention order and issued a restraining order, which prohibited Julian from contacting his ex-partner. However, the man violated the order when he accidentally encountered the ex-partner during a conference and was once again detained.

Already upon his re-admission to custody, a prison doctor diagnosed Julian with an acute psychosis. While in detention, the man reportedly presented hallucinations and delusions, and became periodically agitated. These symptoms led to the necessity of applying direct coercive measures against Julian: he had to be restrained, sometimes for hours, and subdued by physical force and handcuffed.

HFHR’s intervention

On 31 August 2017, the Helsinki Foundation sent an intervention letter to a prosecutor’s office that supervises Julian’s detention during preparatory proceedings.

In its letter, the HFHR invokes Article 3 ECHR, the provision considered a source of the obligation to provide appropriate medical care for detained persons. This obligation plays a particularly important role in the case of detainees with psychiatric conditions and especially – psychotic disorders – as they cause a threat to the patients’ safety. The HFHR also argued that persons suffering from paranoid schizophrenia are much more prone to negative experiences that result from penitentiary detention.

The Foundation reminded that the law offers the option of detaining a person pending trial in a public health care institution, which includes a psychiatric institution. According to the HFHR, the state of Julian’s health is a clear counter-indication to his further detention. Only his admission to a non-prison hospital offers a reasonable prospect of continuing the treatment preventing deterioration of his condition.

Prisons: bad place for psychiatric patients

Julian’s case is not the first one in which the HFHR takes action in defence of a detained person with a psychiatric condition.

In February 2017, the HFHR presented the story of Daniel, also a paranoid schizophrenia patient. Daniel first served a prison sentence of 9 months and now is detained on remand. In both instances, his incarceration resulted in significant deterioration of his health. On behalf of Daniel, the HFHR submitted an application to the ECtHR.

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