Up to 70% of people in Irish prisons have mental health issues, says Prison Officers Association
• Yesterday 11:30
Concern has been expressed at the numbers of people with mental health issues in Irish prisons.© Alamy stock photo
THE PRISON OFFICERS Association (POA) has expressed concern about mental health in Irish prisons, with as many as 70% of prisoners having mental health issues.
The POA is a trade union representing prison officers in Ireland and it is holding its annual delegate conference in Galway today.
Addressing today’s conference, POA president Tony Power cited research indicating that up to 70% of prisoners in Irish prisons have mental health issues.
He said this ranges from “anxiety and low-level depression to psychosis”.
Power added that up to 70% of prisoners also have addiction issues and warned that many prisoners are committed to prison due to a “shortage of beds and accommodation in suitable hospitals or institutions”.
A 2020 report from the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee noted that progress had been made in the treatment and living conditions of Irish prisoners.
However, it was critical of the care afforded to vulnerable prisoners, particularly those with a mental illness.
The Council of Europe committee said Irish prisons “offer poor conditions and inadequate treatment” for mentally ill prisoners, and added that prisons “must be provided with sufficient resources”.
The anti-torture committee added: “Another major concern is the rising number of homeless persons with severe mental health problems who are ending up in prison”.
Speaking at today’s conference, POA president Tony Power said his “members are asked to deal with ill people on a 24/7 basis without any formal training”.
“Our members are going above and beyond the level to which they have been trained and this is totally unacceptable and increases the risk for all involved,” said Power.
A new Central Mental Hospital was opened in November of last year, but Power said this has done “little to alleviate the problem, with many prisoners spending an unacceptable length of time on the waiting list for a bed there”.
Power also told the conference that a “policy on overcrowding the Irish Prison Service is contributing to the deterioration of prisoners’ mental health”.
He described how prisoners are sleeping on floors in overcrowded cells, often with people they have never met.
Power said there are also mental health issues among staff.
“Given the job we must do, it is essential that when an officer is on a landing, no weakness is shown,” said Power. “It is a failsafe for Prison Officers.
“But it’s not actually a failsafe, because in the past many of our colleagues didn’t move on, because they couldn’t.”
Power reminded prison officers at the conference of the supports available to them, including a peer-driven 24-hour help and counselling service called Inspire which is designed to support officers following traumatic incidents.
“It allows them to talk it through with fellow officers rather than with someone who may not have any concept of what is going on inside that officer’s head,” said Power.
The POA president added that the role of a “prison officer is commonly regarded as being one of the most stressful careers and we must never lose sight of this fact”.