Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Canada, autistic man released from jail after 13 months with no housing in sight

From The Observer in Canada:

SARNIA, Canada - The last time Ken McEwan was released from prison, he coped at home for two weeks before landing in a psychiatric ward. This time, his family hopes he can hang on for several months.

Ontario Chief Justice Mark Hornblower released 26-year-old McEwan from Sarnia, Ont. jail Tuesday, despite pleas from his family, his lawyer and his psychiatrist to keep the mentally ill man in custody.

“A jail serves many functions," Hornblower told McEwan. "None fit you."

“I don’t know why it is that society hasn’t found a way to deal with you,” the judge added. “It’s sad to think jail is the only solution that can be offered.” The release of McEwan after nearly 13 months was bittersweet for his father, who has fought to find a safe and secure facility appropriate for his son.

Ken McEwan suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, has the emotional IQ of a seven-year-old and is prone to violent outbursts.

For a short period he was housed by Community Living Sarnia-Lambton and received 24-hour supervision. That ended abruptly when McEwan lashed out at staff and caused property damage. His family said Community Living didn’t provide properly trained caregivers. Community Living disagreed, and hasn’t offered an alternative solution.

McEwan was jailed for his behaviour at a Community Living residence in January 2009 and released to his family six months later, having been kept in jail far longer than the law required while a suitable facility could be found.

Nothing materialized and Harvey McEwan, his wife and Ken’s older brother Harvey Jr., had no choice but to care for him at home.

They say they did their best, but within two weeks he became anxious and lashed out. They took him to Bluewater Health, where McEwan threw a chair and was charged with assault.

He’s been in jail ever since, serving seven months for an assault Hornblower said deserved a one-day sentence.

Lawyer David Stoesser said he “stickhandled” the case for months to keep McEwan in jail and force social services to find a more appropriate placement.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services is still searching.

The family pushed to keep him in jail, Harvey McEwan said. “If he is released, we’re afraid the government will do nothing.” On Tuesday, as the Crown expressed concern that McEwan could be a danger to himself and others, he shifted on his feet.

In the courthouse lobby, free at last, he demanded in a booming voice to know where his belongings were.

Asked if he was happy to be heading home, he said he was glad to be away from the inmates who treated him badly. He said he wanted a permanent home of his own.

“We don’t normally want to keep people incarcerated under these circumstances, but we needed to buy some time,” said Andrew Bolter, a lawyer who has helped the McEwans mediate with the ministry.

“This is a very difficult situation. We’ve got a hospital that really doesn’t want to see him again and no agency able to provide for him. It’s like the guy falls between all the cracks. He needs supports and his family just can’t provide them.” Bolter blamed the government for de-institutionalizing the system without providing for hard-to-house individuals like Ken McEwan.

“The family lurches from disaster to disaster and their son is just blowing in the wind.” As the McEwans walked out of the courthouse, Harvey McEwan said: “You just do what you have to do. Ken is the proverbial hot potato. They just pass him around and around.”