Mother worried about inmate's mental health

Andrew Robinson
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Another parent is raising concerns about the treatment of an inmate with mental health issues at Her Majesty's Penitentiary (HMP) in St. John's.

Rhonda Campbell of Mount Pearl said her son, Stephen Bennett, was diagnosed by psychiatrist Dr. Nizar Ladha with severe depression and social anxiety earlier this year, but HMP psychiatrist Dr. David Craig thought otherwise based on a prior assessment, according to Campbell.

Campbell said her son attempted to harm himself with a "shank" earlier this fall. Shank is prison slang for a homemade knife made from scrap metal.

Campbell said a correctional officer from HMP told her about the incident and described Bennett as "more of a nuisance than anything."

"It's very upsetting to me as a mother and as a human being that anyone would be treated like that with a mental illness that would try to harm himself," said Campbell. "That's not a nuisance, that's a big deal."

Bennett, 21, initially faced 21 charges in relation to multiple incidents that took place over the last two years. Those charges included unlawful break and enter, stealing a firearm, unauthorized possession of a prohibited weapon and mischief among others.

He was sent to HMP in March for allegedly breaching conditions of his release. On Oct. 21, nine charges were dropped against Bennett and he was sentenced to 90 days in prison on top of time already served.

Campbell said Bennett's troubles began shortly after he hit puberty. There were mood changes and he had difficulty socializing in junior high, according to Campbell.

Once he hit age 17, Campbell said, it seemed like his thought process had changed. He dropped out of school and became withdrawn, spending most of his time alone in his bedroom, isolated from the outside world.

Campbell said her son was not a violent person, and was more concerned about others hurting him. With his depression untreated, Campbell suspects paranoia began to settle into her son's psyche.

"I think if he had a chance to go for any treatment or a longer assessment, they may find other underlying things," said Campbell, who does not know whether her son has been prescribed any medications.

Campbell added she has little faith in HMP's handling of mental health cases under the watch of Craig.

Citizens' representative Barry Fleming, who released his annual report last week, has called for the removal of Craig from his position at HMP.

He released a report in March on Craig based on complaints from inmates who had their prescribed medications reduced.

Justice Minister Felix Collins dismissed the report, but did order a peer review of Craig's work. Last week, Collins told The Telegram the review was ongoing.

When asked to verify whether the incident in which Bennett attempted to harm himself occurred, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice told The Telegram it cannot provide personal information on inmates because of privacy concerns.

Last month, William Earle raised concerns about the safety of his son, Jason Daniel Earle, who has been diagnosed as manic depressive and takes anti-psychotic medication.

Jason Earle was placed in "the hole" last month after he refused to accept a transfer to a unit where he felt his safety would have been compromised, according to his father. William Earle said he did not know whether his son was taking his medication while in prison.

Meanwhile, Campbell said she hopes her son receives the help he needs once he is released from prison.

"I don't want my son to spend his life in and out of jail. I'm sure with some medication or therapy he'd be fine." Twitter:TeleAndrew


Organizations: Bennett's, Citizens', Department of Justice

Geographic location: St. John's, Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • billy E
    December 03, 2011 - 16:07

    Collins time for you togive your head shake. ops its empty, you told the people of nfld that you will carry out peer review at H.m.P. WHO DO YOU NEED TO SPEAK TO .TO GET THE BALL ROLLING WOULD IT BE THE NEW PRIMER EIDTH BUNKER,I THINK COLLINS AND CRAIG B.D.THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS. ON LESS IT HITS HOME

  • Steve
    December 03, 2011 - 09:19

    It's time for people to stop blaming all of their child's problems on mental illness. Mr. Bennett may well have some sort of depression but i'm sure it didn't make him do a break and entry and steal prohibited weapons. Truth be told his depression probably has more to do with being locked up which he caused himself. Many teenagers withdraw to their rooms but that doesn't mean that they are all depressed. Maybe Mr Bennett just decided that he wanted to do these things that landed him in jail and now as he thinks about what he has done he is feeling guilt or maybe he just wants to be medicated to make his time pass faster. HMP is full of inmates that would fake having something wrong with them in order to get prescription drugs. Most everything an inmate does while in jail is motivated by something. Remember these people are in there because they preyed on others for their own benefit.