By Peter Stevenson
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou and Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou yesterday announced a series of new measures which they hope to implement following three suicides last year at the central prisons.
The meeting took place just four days after the latest suicide last Sunday when a 27-year-old Kurdish man from Syria hanged himself with his shoelaces despite being put on suicide watch.
“Over the years there has not been a specific way of assessing the problem and no corrective measures have ever been taken and neither was it monitored systematically,” Nicolaou said.
He added that certain individual measures had been taken in some circumstances but that there needed to be continued monitoring of the situation in cooperation with all the relevant departments and ministries, including the Ombudswoman’s office.
“Convicts need to be provided with psychiatric care, medication and to be reviewed by a panel of psychiatrists with the participation of the health ministry and the cooperation of prison guards,” he said.
The minister and the Ombudswoman also discussed measures that needed to be taken at the central prisons like the creation of special monitoring areas for convicts who may have mental issues and training staff to know what the best practice is in dealing with such people. They also said staff awareness on such issues needed to be increased.
Nicolaou also spoke of the need for certain measures to be implemented in such cases like removing belts and shoe-laces if a convict is found to have suicidal tendencies. He added that regular checks needed to be carried out like they do abroad and to have frequent contact with convicts who may have problems and not just keep them in isolated areas.
“We discussed the matter with the Ombudswoman and we agreed to implement these measures and also to regularly assess the measures and their results to see the reaction and to know what the next corrective measures need to be,” he said.
Nicolaou said the majority of the new measures would be implemented immediately, possibly by the end of the month. The Ombudswoman described the meeting as constructive and welcomed the decision to implement measures immediately.
She said that she believes that the severity of certain problem regarding mental illness could sometimes be underestimated.
“With the measures that the minister has decided, especially on such issues, the problems will be sufficiently dealt with although there needs to be complete cohesion between the three ministries of labour, justice and health so I hope we can succeed,” she said.