A Stoke Newington man who suffers from bipolar disorder has won his appeal to remain in hospital care rather than be returned to prison to serve his sentence for arson.
The decision by the Court of Appeal is a victory for the ‘Justice for Joe’ campaign, which was launched in support of Joe Paraskeva, 22, who was sentenced to a minimum of two years imprisonment for using a lighter and an aerosol to try to burn through the door of a psychiatric ward.
The campaign, led by his mother Linda Morgan, argued that it was a disproportionate sentence and that his condition should be treated by returning him to hospital.
After the verdict, his mother told ELL: “I am overwhelmed and relieved. Joe deserves proper care and treatment in a hospital. If he’d stayed in prison he could have died – he was so unwell there that he wouldn’t receive visits from anyone for eight and a half months.”
After his arrest in October 2010, Paraskeva was held in prison. Evidence at his trial that he was not mentally ill at the time of the offence led the judge to impose the prison sentence.
However, following protests about his case, he was moved to the John Howard Centre Forensic Unit in Hackney in November 2011, where he is still being treated.
The Court of Appeal was asked to rule that he not be returned to prison.
The ‘Justice for Joe’ campaign has support from mental health and prison reform organisations like Sane, MIND and The Howard League for Penal Reform, among others.
His mother said his arrest had been “absolutely extraordinary”.
“We thought and expected he would be in a place of safety. He was obviously very distressed to get out. There was a list of things they weren’t supposed to have in those wards, things like aerosols and lighters, but he did. After the incident I assumed that he would be put into a safer ward [rather than prison].”
Indeterminate public protection sentences of the sort originally issued to Paraskeva were abolished by the Government in May 2011 after being deemed a violation of human rights, but this abolition cannot be applied retrospectively.
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington, has now pledged to fight for the creation of a new parliamentary committee on the treatment of mentally ill patients in response to Morgan’s campaign for her son.
Morgan said: “I think there are problems with mental health services and the criminal justice system. If you’re a sectioned mental health patient I don’t feel you should be imprisoned. I feel strongly that someone who is vulnerable as Joe was at the time [he was imprisoned] should be given protection of the state.
“There is a duty to protect individuals with issues of mental health.”