How did these events happen?
Joe suffered his first mental health crisis in June 2007 and spent the next seven months as an in-patient in a specialist Adolescent Mental Health Unit (London, UK). Initially he was sectioned for 28 days and during this time he was assessed as so mentally unwell that he should be detained for a longer period. He was then subject to a hospital order, for 6 months, during which time he was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder and prescribed medication.
His father also suffers from this severe and life-long mental health condition.
Joe was transferred from the Adolescent Mental Health Unit in January 2008, into the care of the Consultant Psychiatrist at the Child and Adolescent Team in Hackney (London). Here he continued to receive regular support from the team and to be prescribed medication.
When he reached the age of 18 (September 2008), he was transferred to a different consultant psychiatrist in Hackney, part of an 'early intervention' team focusing on people who have suffered one or more psychotic episodes. This psychiatrist continued to prescribe Joe the same medication.
In June 2010, three years after he first came into contact with Hackney mental health services, he was transferred to the care of his GP.
Events leading up to prison
Joe suffered his second mental health crisis in 2010. Against medical advice, he had stopped taking his medication because he couldn't stand the side effects and felt unable to wait for the dose to be reduced more slowly.
His mental health began to deteriorate and he showed all the symptoms of a relapse which had been listed on his care plan.
At the end of August 2010, he hit his sister during an argument. It was the first time he had done this and his behaviour frightened him. He sought psychiatric help in the community but support did not come soon enough. Within weeks of this incident, he had admitted himself to the psychiatric unit of the local hospital as he had been advised to do.
Joe admitted himself voluntarily in the early hours of October 4th 2010. The next morning, feeling very frightened and disturbed, he wanted to leave and was detained by doctors under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act for a period of assessment of up to 28 days.
In great distress, Joe tried to escape from the hospital less than 48 hours later, in the early hours of 6th October 2010 while still under section by the hospital. He used a lighter and a deodorant aerosol to create a flame which he directed at the doors. The police were called and he was taken from the hospital to the local police station and charged. Police told the family that the hospital did not want him back, so he remained in custody and was charged with arson (not the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life) by the police.
Joe was sent to a Young Offenders Institution on 7th October 2010.
Over the years it has been extremely hard for Joe - and us, his family - to come to terms with his diagnosis and the implications of living with a severe and life-long mental health disorder. To our dismay, we have found that the help and support we were given when Joe was a teenager is no longer available. We are shocked and dismayed that his diagnosis and previous psychiatric history have been disputed and ignored.
That a young man of 20 was frightened and desperate enough to admit himself to an adult psychiatric ward because he needed help and now finds himself criminalized and facing an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment seems quite unbelievable to his family and friends.