A Nova Scotia mother is pushing for policy changes that would keep people with special needs out of trouble with the law.
Brenda Hardiman’s 25-year-old daughter has a brain disorder that results in aggressive outbursts.
She lives in a facility under the Department of Community Services in Bedford, and when she has an aggressive episode, staff are told to call the police.
But Hardiman says her daughter shouldn’t be handcuffed and taken into police custody for something she can’t control.
“I start to get real upset, like crying, and my face turns red and I’m just like tightening up,” explains Nichele Benn of her episodes.
Her mother says she can become physically violent.
“She’s been experiencing periodic episodes of violence since she was four when she started seizing with her epilepsy,” says Hardiman.
Benn used to be put in a therapeutic quiet room at the home to calm her down, but her mother says Community Services changed the policy about five years ago.
“The care providers were no longer able to use the therapeutic quiet room and they had to call police,” says Hardiman.
As a result, she says police have been called to the home 17 times. Benn has been in jail about seven times on several assault charges and convictions.
She is now on probation for 18 months.
With Benn having episodes every few months, Hardiman worries she will breach probation and end up in jail.
She says it’s a crisis situation and compares it to Ashley Smith, a troubled teen from New Brunswick who ended up taking her own life while serving time in federal prison.
“I see and know what happens to people like Nichele when they go to jail,” she says. “They’re giving forced injections, they’re strapped…it’s just inhumane.”
The head of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living says more supports are needed in the community.
“Certainly, having police intervention is not the way to go,” says Jean Coleman. “People with intellectual disabilities will not fare well in the criminal justice system.”
Community Services can’t speak to the specifics of Benn’s case, but says every effort is made to deescalate aggressive behaviour, and if police are called, they say it’s based on risk.
“Any approach would be individually based on the circumstances and of paramount importance is the safety of the individual and those around them,” says Nova Scotia Community Services spokesperson Lorna MacPherson.
Hardiman would like staff from both Community Services and the Justice Department to get together and talk about her daughter’s situation. She says there is no criminal intent, and therefore there should be no police intervention.
Benn agrees there are better ways to handle the situation than calling police.
“Just by talking to somebody that I trust and that I like.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster