Concern over ‘degrading’ prison conditions for people with mental health issues

Concern over 'degrading' prison conditions for people with mental health issues

Saoirse Brady

Penal reform campaigners have called for urgent action after a watchdog found that mental healthcare needs are not being fully or satisfactorily met in any of the seven prisons it inspected.

A damning thematic inspection report published today by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons describes a number of instances where conditions “could be considered as degrading”.

The report warns: “The time for working groups and reports alone must draw to a close — action is now required.”

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said it “commends the inspector of prisons for shining a light on what is happening behind the high prison walls”.

Executive director Saoirse Brady said: “As mental healthcare in the community fails people who need treatment, what we’re seeing is people with high-level healthcare needs inappropriately being placed in prison as supports and care are not available in the community.

“Not only is it adding to record levels of overcrowding in prison, but it is also compounding the issues faced by the prison system — from overstretched staff, people placed in overcrowded cells in unacceptable conditions, and pressures in accessing support services and healthcare.

“There is a lack of opportunities to divert those who clearly need care in the community or a hospital away from the criminal justice system. People with low levels of offending are being refused treatment in hospitals which would be a more appropriate response. Swift action must be taken to address this.

“However, the Department of Justice cannot address all of these issues alone. The Department of Health has a clear and important role to play in addressing the unacceptable treatment of people with mental health issues who end up in the prison system.”

She added: “Really, we need to question why so many people with psychosocial disabilities and mental health needs are ending up in our prisons and make the necessary legislative and policy changes to ensure that prison is no longer the default option.”

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