Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 03/06/11

Mad, Bad And Dangerous

I scarcely know where to start with this.

You, dear reader, can start by reading this piece in yesterday's Guardian. Come back here when you've done that, please...

Back? Good. Horrified? If not, perhaps you should be.

Let's run through the facts here, shall we?

Item: A young man with a previous history of psychiatric ill-health begins to exhibit symptoms of a relapse.

Item: He recognises that his condition is deteriorating, and so voluntarily submits himself for admission to a local hospital for assessment.

Item: Forty-eight hours later, and in a state of obvious distress, he tries to escape from the locked ward he had been placed in. The damage he causes is minor, and no-one is injured.

Item: Seemingly at the insistence of the hospital, the police get involved and the Clown Persecution Service insists on prosecuting for arson.

Item: The young man is transferred out of the psychiatric ward and is placed first of all in a police cell, and then in a prison.

Item: The young man pleads guilty, and offers to pay for the damage he caused.

Item: A psychiatrist assesses that the young man was not mentally ill at the time of his escape attempt (a curiously quick diagnosis given that his condition was supposed to be assessed over a period of twenty-eight days rather than one fourteenth of that time), but that nonetheless he does not pose a danger to the public.

Item: A probation officer, who has never even met the person he was supposed to be assessing, nevertheless comes to the conclusion that the young man does constitute such a danger.

Item: The trial judge, ignoring the inconvenient part of the doctor's judgment and endorsing the probation officer's view, gives the young man a sentence of indeterminate length under the provisions of yet another example of New Labour's tabloid-pleasing grandstanding - the 2003 Criminal Justice (sic) Act. At the very minimum, the young man will have to spend at least two years in prison before he can even be considered for parole.

All this taken together is bad enough, but consider this: the probation officer reached his conclusion as to whether Joe Paraskeva was dangerous or not as follows:

"...by inputting facts about the case and Paraskeva's background into a computerised risk-analysis system, which crunched the data through complex algorithms and categorised him as dangerous."

Consider this as well:

"The Judge said in court that he dismissed all Joe's previous psychiatric history as 'in the past' so he did not take any of the mitigating evidence into account...When Joe's barrister mentioned his long-standing diagnosis of bipolar and subsequent treatment, the judge dismissed this as past history."

So, to sum up: a young man with a history of psychiatric illness, who voluntarily submitted himself for assessment and who - in the throes of his own illness - committed a minor act of damage for which he apologised and offered to make amends for is not sent to a psychiatric hospital for the treatment which he needs to be able to live a productive life, but is instead thrown into prison (where the treatment he needs will almost certainly not be available to him) - possibly for the rest of his days - on the basis of what a computer program said and on the say-so of a judge who was quite clearly ill-disposed not only to the young man but also to anything which could be called 'sense', let alone simple human compassion.

For fuck sake, how did we get here? How did we get to a system where a mentally ill young man is locked away in a prison without any time limit on his sentence on the basis of a piece of software and a pig-ignorant judge?

I'm sorry; there are further points to be made - not least the points that all the officials involved in this case are the ones who should be locked away until they are no longer a danger to the public; and that we have come to a very dangerous state where people can have their lives destroyed by replacing the considered assessments of experienced experts with a decision reached by a computer algorithm (I'm sure it's far more 'cost-effective' and 'efficient') - but I'm too angry to make them right now. The facts of this wretched case should be sufficient to worry anyone who cares about justice. It might easily happen to one of your own, you know.

Joe Paraskeva's family and friends have set up a website to co-ordinate a response and support for him and his mother. It's at Justice For Joean arrow to click on to take you to a follow-up item