Revisions to allow detention extension for mentally ill criminal offenders

01/28/2022 07:16 PM
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Pixabay photo for illustrative purpose only
Pixabay photo for illustrative purpose only

Taipei, Jan. 28 (CNA) Taiwan's Legislature passed an amendment Thursday that will make it possible for criminal offenders with mental issues to be kept in psychiatric detention beyond the existing five-year limit, but no cap was placed on how long they can be held.

Under Article 87 of Taiwan's Criminal Code, criminal offenders who are not convicted or whose sentences are reduced because of diminished responsibility can be held in "custodial protection" for up to five years.

Thursday's amendment allowed the period of custodial protection to be extended once for three years or less, followed by extensions of up to one year each, without any limit to the number of extensions allowed.

Prosecutors will be required to get permission from a court for each extension, and the need for keeping the individual under custodial protection must be re-evaluated annually, whether during the initial five-year period or during later extensions.

The existing law only stipulated that a court could revoke the detention order at any time if evidence existed that it was no longer necessary.

The amendment came in response to the fatal stabbing of a railway police officer in 2019 by a passenger surnamed Cheng (鄭) who had a history of schizophrenia.

In April 2020, the Chiayi District Court found Cheng not guilty of murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility and ordered him to undergo treatment for his mental health issues in custodial protection for five years.

The verdict sparked outrage among many people who felt the defendant was being let off too lightly, leading to calls for longer periods of psychiatric detention for criminal offenders with mental disabilities.

New Power Party lawmaker Wang Wan-yu (王婉諭), whose daughter was murdered in 2016 by a man who was given a life sentence rather than the death penalty because he suffered from mental illness, criticized the new revisions, saying they would have the opposite of the impact desired.

People with mental illnesses who committed less serious crimes would not admit to their mental issues for fear of being caught in psychiatric detention indefinitely, she argued.

They would avoid getting care and not be cared for by Taiwan's mental health network, resulting in the person's conditioning worsening, she said. "Couldn't that lead to another tragedy similar to what happened to me?"

Others suggested that having no upper limit on the total time spent in psychiatric detention could violate a person's human rights and be unconstitutional.

Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), a caucus whip of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, argued, however, that the yearly court reviews would prevent indefinite detentions.

Increasing the frequency with which judges review cases can balance human rights protections and social order considerations, he said.

Other amendments were passed Thursday that allowed a suspect or defendant to be detained during an investigation or trial in a way that will be more beneficial to their health, proponents argued.

A revision to the Code of Criminal Procedure instituted a "temporary resettlement system" for suspects or defendants to take into account their medical needs, procedural rights and public order, the Ministry of Justice said in a statement.

Ker argued this was the most important amendment because it will enable suspects and defendants to get medical care in facilities different than standard detention centers.

Another amendment, of the Rehabilitative Disposition Execution Act, gives prosecutors the authority to establish the kind of custodial protection required for each individual depending on his or her circumstances.

They will be able to have such individuals enter psychiatric hospitals, mental health facilities, or institutions for people with disabilities, according to the amendment.

(By Luke Sabatier)

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