Criminal justice system should not be used against mentally challenged adult ‘children,' North River parents say

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NORTH RIVER - Victor and Iris Murphy simply cannot understand a society that insists on penalizing "children" through the criminal justice system.

Victor and Iris Murphy are to participate in a peaceful demonstration in Truro on Sunday in support of their daughter Amanda and other mentally disadvantaged people who are facing criminal charges.

Chronologically, their daughter Amanda is 34. From a cognitive perspective, however, the North River couple said she has been psychologically assessed at a level of between five and eight years old.

"She also had quite an intellectual disability," Iris said, while discussing the plight of their daughter, who is to be sentenced next Thursday for assaulting (by pushing and slapping) a worker at the small options home where Amanda lives.

"It's not unusual for someone with Amanda's cognitive abilities to respond in the way that she does, based on where she is," Iris said, of her daughter who has been declared mentally incompetent by the courts because of all her health issues, including the fact that she is bi-polar and has other mental health issues.

"This is something that should be treated like the children that they are and the consequences should be what you would do with a child," Iris said. "Never, ever should this population of people face the judicial system. It's wrong, it's absolutely wrong. I really feel that there are other ways to do it."

The current situation is not Amanda's first brush with the law, Iris said, adding that police have been called on numerous occasions to deal with her daughter's outbursts or temper tantrums. She has also been previously convicted of assault for similar incidents and has been placed on probation.

The Murphys can only speculate on the outcome of next week's court proceedings but they are especially worried about Amanda's fate should the judge decide to sentence her to a jail term, regardless of how short that may be.

"Would she understand that?" Iris asked, regarding the possibility of incarceration. "No. The potential for her to be another Ashley Smith is great," she said, of the mentally challenged New Brunswick teen, who died while serving time under similar circumstances.

"Because if Amanda spends one night incarcerated, she will spend a lifetime. Because, cognitively, she does not have the ability to understand differently. So she will continue to offend and she will continue to stay and eventually she would end up like Ashley Smith. I know that. I am positive that will be her outcome."

Both Iris and Victor say they have the utmost "respect and admiration" for people who care for people such as their daughter in small options homes or similar facilities.

But they also wonder whether such staff could benefit from more training that would help them deal with the emotions and behaviours exhibited by those they care for.

"I don't believe there should be police involvement. I think there should be strategies within the homes to deal with the behaviours as they arise," Iris said. "And I think that everybody should be proactive and cognizant of a client like Amanda (and others like her). They need to know that this population are spirited, they have energy, they have mental health challenges. When they (staff) go to work in the morning they need their magic hat that says, ‘what am I going to do today that's going to bring a positive outcome?'"

And the Murphys are also adamant that the judicial system must be changed to protect such people who do not understand the consequences of their actions.

"Is Amanda difficult? Yes she is. However, she's spirited, she has all those other needs and I just personally feel that we need to take a long hard look at what we're doing with this population," Iris said.

As a paramedic, Victor said he has had to deal with situations over the years from difficult people who either had too much to drink or were dealing with their own mental health issues. And like Iris, he said there should be other ways for people who care for mentally challenged people other than to pursue such situations through the criminal justice system.

"Their policy is to call the police," he said. "I just think that now, things have gotten way blown out of proportion... .

"I know that I am going to ruffle a few feathers when I say that more training is needed, but it's true, as with anything."

Iris agreed.

"I just really feel that we need to take a long look at this population of people. Treat them with dignity and the respect they deserve," she said.



Geographic location: North River, New Brunswick

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Recent comments

  • j
    February 02, 2014 - 07:17

    I hate to be the bad guy, but if the police had to be called on multiple occasions, maybe the place she is isn't the place she should be. Be it jail or a higher level of institutionalization for someone with special needs. All these employees have training in non violent crisis intervention, and courses in dealing with people with special needs. We have to remember the safety of not only these employees, but the other occupants of the group home she is in. Look at the other side of the coin, what if another family had to suffer the loss, or severe harm, to their loved one who resides in the same house because of another outburst. Imagine the outrage that would follow where she's already known to be violent, but because she has cognitive impairment, nothing was done. I feel for this family, I really do, but we can't fight for equal treatment for people who are mentally disabled, and then turn around and say it's unfair to treat them the same when it doesn't benefit them.

  • Helena
    February 01, 2014 - 11:59

    These people should not have to be afraid to stand up for their daughter. They are absolutely right, in that the criminal justice system is not the place for the mentally challenged, and also that group home staff need more training. I have seen a family member go through the same system, although the police were only used to take her to another facility with higher security...never to jail. The problem is government has chosen to close al of the facilities that can deal with high needs people, and they will always be in our midst. I agree with the couple that incarceration will be the worst possible route for their daughter and others like her. It seems as though we are going backwards in the treatment of our most vulnerable. Isn't the measure of a society, in fact, the way we deal with our most vulnerable members?