Nichele Benn faces more charges after an incident at the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Lower Sackville, N.S., Thursday night, and her mother says it raises concerns about people with intellectual disabilities being dragged into the criminal justice system.
Benn, 26, was born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and an organic brain disorder. She has periodic episodes of aggressive behaviour and lives at Quest as part of the transition program. She has been charged with assault several times.
- Audio | Disability and the justice system: Brenda Hardiman and daughter share their story
Her mother, Brenda Hardiman, says another resident was involved in an incident with Benn on Thursday night.
“Nichele’s behaviour escalated into a situation where RCMP were called and she has been charged with destruction of property,” said Hardiman.
She was told staff were “insistent” Benn be charged.
“When I questioned the community transition program staff about that, they responded that you or I would be charged if there was an offence like that. My response to that was well, we don’t have an intellectual disability, epilepsy and an organic brain disorder. These people need to be treated differently in the justice system,” Hardiman said.
'Our leaders really haven’t learned a lesson from the death of Ashley Smith.' - Brenda Hardiman
“There’s no justice served by taking these people and criminalizing them when they have special needs. They’re not going out and murdering people, planning liquor store robberies. They have episodes where they live. They’re isolated to where they live and need to be dealt with differently in the criminal justice system.”
Hardiman says no one would push for charges against a child, and nor should they against an adult with an intellectual disabilities.
“Our leaders really haven’t learned a lesson from the death of Ashley Smith. We hope her death has not been in vain.”
Smith is the New Brunswick teenager who died at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. back in 2007. An Ontario coroner's jury ruled the self-inflicted choking death in her segregated prison cell was a homicide.
Hardiman says it's “potentially a death sentence" if people like her daughter end up in jail.
Homes not the best fit
The Department of Justice says anyone who feels they are in danger has the right to call police.
“If charges are laid, there are alternative resolutions such as mental health court, restorative justice and adult diversion that can be used, if applicable,” said spokesman Andrew Preeper.
“Most times intervention plans, which are developed with the client and their family, work.”
The province says it’s phasing out residential care homes like Quest. Hardiman says that day can’t come soon enough.
“Their needs are not being met,” she said.
She says it’s not right for people with behavioural problems to be living in group homes where staff can’t handle their outbursts.