Forcing mentally ill prisoners to sleep on prison floors branded ‘unacceptable’

Deirdre Malone
Deirdre Malone

The reported practice of forcing prisoners with serious mental illnesses to sleep on prison floors because there are no beds for them in the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) has been branded “utterly unacceptable”.

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), told Irish Legal News that urgent action is needed to implement expert recommendations made over a decade ago.

According to The Irish Times, around 30 prisoners are on the waiting list for a bed in the CMH, where all 94 beds are occupied.

Many of the prisoners on the waiting list are instead made to stay on the overcrowded D2 landing of Cloverhill Prison in Dublin, where prisoners often have to double up in cells or sleep on the floor.

Commenting on reports, Ms Malone told Irish Legal News: “It is utterly unacceptable that prisons are being used to warehouse people who should be in the care of a secure health facility. Prison is no place for those who are suffering from severe mental illness.

“The consequence is that the men are not accessing the appropriate treatment, causing acute individual suffering and potentially leading to deterioration of their condition. This also places unreasonable demands on prison staff.”

She highlighted the 2006 murder of prisoner Gary Douch, who was beaten to death by a cellmate with serious mental illness.

Ms Malone said: “The investigation into the tragic death of Gary Douch in Mountjoy Prison in 2006 prompted a comprehensive suite of recommendations around forensic mental health care.

“Few of these recommendations have so far been implemented, and they need to be implemented in full.

“Multiple actions need to be taken urgently, including: building capacity in community mental health services, including community forensic mental health teams; increasing mental health staff with appropriate expertise within the prison system; and increasing provision at the new designated centre at Portrane, so that Ireland can provide adequate forensic mental health beds in line with real need.”