PLEASE COPY AND PASTE this letter to the Minister of Community Services, the Minister of Justice and to the Premier. Their contact information is listed at the end of this letter.
As a concerned citizen, I draw your attention to the critical situation Nichele Benn is facing. I feel immediate intervention is needed on Nichele’s behalf and ask that the Ministers of Justice and Community Services meet with Nichele’s mother Brenda Hardiman as soon as possible. A meaningful discussion must take place to change the protocol for police intervention and to talk about how we can improve the treatment of our most vulnerable group when they find themselves in the midst of our legal system.
Nichele is a 25 year old woman who has intellectual and physical disabilities including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and an organic brain disorder resulting in periodic episodes of physical aggression. She was doing well living in the community, with supports, and then in May of 2012, the Department of Community Services moved Nichele to an institution in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia. The family was strongly opposed to this move.
Approximately five years ago, the Department of Community Services changed their protocol for Nichele. The use of a therapeutic quiet room was discontinued and police intervention was mandated. Over the last five years, there have been approximately 17 police interventions, 7 incarcerations, several assault charges and convictions. She has been arrested, handcuffed and jailed on numerous occasions. The latest conviction resulted in Nichele being placed on probation for 18 months, being sentenced to 24 hours of community service, and having to submit a DNA sample.
Nichele participated in the mental health court system. Unfortunately, the system did not benefit her and she was directed back to main stream court. What changes must be made to ensure this system helps those it was designed to help? Nichele is a young woman with the mental capacity of a 12 year old child. I ask you, if not her, who is the mental health court system designed to help?
I ask that the police intervention cease immediately, as a part of the Department of Community Services’ protocol for managing Nichele’s behaviour. The reinstatement of the use of other supports must be a priority for her.
The imposition of probation is a troubling development in this situation. Nichele’s history supports her family’s growing concerns that she will not be episode free for the probation period which could result in incarceration.
There are frightening similarities between this case and that of another young woman, Ashley Smith whose entry into our penal system resulted in tragedy. We are all aware of the consequences for Ashley and her family. Nichele’s pending collision course with that same penal system is the direct result of a decision made by the Department of Community Services to amend the protocol for dealing with Nichele’s behaviour. This is not acceptable for any intellectually challenged individual in this country, not in Nova Scotia and not in this young woman’s life.
I call on you to meet with Nichele’s mother and work collaboratively to ensure that police intervention ceases, and that positive changes are made to the mental health court system.
FB - Help Nichele Benn…Have we learned nothing from Ashley Smith?
Minister of Community Services
Minister of Health and Wellness
Minister of Justice
~ Help Nichele