Thu, 03 Dec, 2020 – 20:00
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) met the departments of justice and health this week to discuss the issue of mental illness among prisoners following last week’s damning findings in a European inspection report.
However, the Department of Justice has said it will be early 2021 before the planned work of the promised high-level taskforce on mental health, addiction and prisons is agreed.
The IPS has said there is an urgent need to improve services for inmates with psychiatric illnesses and said the taskforce was now a priority.
The Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture report commended many changes in Irish prisons — lower prisoner numbers, reductions in violence and improvements in healthcare — but detailed glaring problems in the treatment of prisoners with psychiatric illnesses.
It highlighted two specific cases in Cloverhill Prison, including one where a prisoner with serious mental illnesses was lying naked in cells, in his own excrement.
It also detailed problems in special units in Cork Prison and Mountjoy, saying that prisoners were wandering idly and that there was a lack of activities and only medication in terms of treatment.
It said the D2 Wing in Cloverhill — the country’s largest prison unit for mentally ill prisoners — was overcrowded and that, despite this, resources in terms of specialist staff had actually been cut.
In a detailed statement to the Irish Examiner the IPS said it continued to liaise closely with the departments of health and justice as well as the Central Mental Hospital regarding a future model of care for mental health.Learn more
“The Health Needs Assessment which includes mental health is also progressing and the steering group which includes the Department of Justice and Department of Health will meet this week to review progress,” it said.
“The work of the Inter-departmental Group on Mental Health and the recently published Department of Health Policy (Sharing the Vision) will form part of this work.”
It said the programme for government recommended the establishment of a task force as part of Prison and Penal Reform.
“The Irish Prison Service strongly supports the establishment of the taskforce as a priority to address the issue of increasing the capacity of Forensic Mental Health services across the prison estate and for those who require admission to the Central Medical Hospital.
“The scope and activity of the high support units will be examined under the Health Needs Assessment currently taking place, taking into account the policy framework ‘Vision for Change’ which is led by The Department of Health.”
In a statement, the Department of Justice said: “The whole area of how criminal justice and public health, especially mental health, intersect and how to best provide the most appropriate service is a priority for [Justice] Minister McEntee.
“The minister met with her colleague, Minister Stephen Donnelly in September to lay the foundations for the establishment of a high-level taskforce as committed to in the programme for government.”
It added: “Consultation between both departments on the development of terms of reference and the structure of the taskforce is at an advanced stage with a view to taking this complex and cross-cutting work forward in early 2021.”