Monday, March 23, 2009

Teen with autism jailed three days in New Zealand

From the New Zealand Press Association:

An 18-year-old autistic woman with the mental age of 11 is to go to a specialist hospital for mental health patients after being held in the Nelson police cells for three days.

Emma Steenson (pictured) reappeared in Nelson District Court today, after facing a variety of charges on March 21, and was bailed to Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch.

She was arrested by Nelson police after allegedly assaulting her mother.

Police have arranged transport to take her to the hospital.

The fact she was kept in police cells caused controversy, with Prime Minister John Key making inquiries about the matter today.

He told reporters at his post-cabinet press conference he understood Steenson had been remanded on bail until April 6 to live at Hillmorton Hospital.

"It's quite clear that Emma needs specialist care, and in my opinion she shouldn't be in a police cell. She needs specialist help," Mr Key said.

The bail conditions included that she was personally delivered to the hospital, to abide by its rules, and that there was suitable transportation organised by the police.

Steenson's plight was "very complex," Mr Key said.

"I think the police would have been genuinely trying to protect her and the community.

"But it's quite clear that she's a young lady who needs some help and the right place for her is to get that help in a hospital facility and not a police cell," Mr Key said.

The teenager had been referred to a residential care facility for people with behavioural issues, but was discharged last week.

Earlier today police were working with Autism New Zealand and Emma's mother to get her into a home for autistic people.

Nelson Bays police area commander Inspector Brian McGurk said Steenson's mother had contacted police early Saturday morning to say her daughter was behaving aggressively and threatening her.

Steenson was arrested on an outstanding warrant on charges of wilful damage and possessing an offensive weapon, for allegedly taking to her neighbour's windows with a golf club on October 18 last year.

She also faced charges of assaulting and using threatening behaviour against her mother on March 8.

She had appeared in court on those charges on Saturday and was remanded in custody to reappear today, Mr McGurk said.

"The problem we were stuck with on Saturday morning was ... she was a threat to herself and to other people.

"The option was she would have been released, but she would have had nowhere to go, no assistance and would probably either reoffend probably in a violent manner or be victimised herself.

"So that's why she ended up in our cells, there was just nowhere else for her to go."
Autism New Zealand's national operations manager Wendy Duff said Steenson most definitely needed treatment and a remand to Hillmorton was a good option.

"She's got nowhere else to go, it's better than being in a police cell," she said.

"I would hope that she's in the right place to get some urgent treatment and stabilise her I guess."

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board secretary Mike Cummins said that as a result of the court decision today the board had arranged for Steenson to be placed in appropriate facilities in Christchurch.

"The court requires the woman to undergo an assessment in the community while on bail," he said.

"Satisfactory travel arrangements have been put in place to enable this assessment to be completed."

Mr Cummins said the DHB was concerned to ensure the best outcome possible for the young woman and had concerns that the situation had happened as it did."