Neglect of prisoners with mental health difficulties exposes a prison system that is unfit for purpose - Mental Health Reform

February 22 2024

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People with serious mental health difficulties are being incarcerated and neglected in a prison system that is unfit for purpose, according to a new report launched today by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.

The report reveals alarming deficiencies in the Irish prison system’s mental health services including critically low staffing numbers, poor living conditions and excessively long waiting lists. Findings show that people with complex mental health needs have been exposed to the risk of ill-treatment and harm due to severe deficits in care.

Fiona Coyle, CEO of DFI Member Organisation, Mental Health Reform said: “The findings of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons are deeply disturbing. It is clear that the State is failing many people in the criminal justice system with mental health difficulties. The inhumane conditions and inadequate care in the prisons indicate serious human rights violations.

It is wholly unacceptable for people with mental health difficulties to be detained in prison. We need to develop a system that respects people’s rights and provides support at the earliest possible juncture. The Government must invest in community mental health teams in police stations and courts. This would help to divert vulnerable individuals from the criminal justice system towards supportive environments.

The Government must take urgent action to provide safe and effective mental health treatment to prisoners. There must be greater investment and resource planning in both the Irish Prison Service and the mental health services in the wider community. This will require strengthened coordination between the Department of Health and the Department of Justice.

Despite the serious challenges highlighted in the report, there has been some progress in forensic mental health services. Last year saw the opening of the new Central Mental Hospital in Portrane which provides inpatient care to people with complex needs. A high-level taskforce has also been established to improve addiction treatments and mental health services for people in the prison system.”