IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Irish Examiner: System "unable to deal with prisoners with mental illness."

8th March 2010

In today's Irish Examiner, Cormac O'Keeffe reports on a woman's struggle to secure appropriate treatment for her brother who has severe mental health issues, citing a failure of both the health system and the prison system:

Penal reformers said the prison is unable to deal with the number of prisoners with a severe mental illness, despite some encouraging initiatives.

Responding to Sally's story [...], the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) also expressed "serious concern" that prisons might be used as a solution to deal with patients who are deemed "unsuitable" for residential treatment in the community.

“The prison environment places such persons at risk of developing further, or deeper, problems connected to placement in inappropriate conditions, including being held on 23-hour lock-up. Prison does not provide them with appropriate therapeutic interventions; it places them at greater risk of self-harm and suicide," said Agnieszka Martynowicz, research and policy officer at IPRT.

"Despite encouraging initiatives undertaken by the Central Mental Hospital and the Irish Prison Service - such as the establishment of the Prison Inreach and Court Liaison Service (PICLS) at Cloverhill - the prison system is still largely unable to deal with the number of prisoners presenting with severe mental health difficulties."

"All prisoners requiring mental health treatment should be assessed for diversion into services outside of the prison estate. The extension of psychiatric assessment services provided in Cloverhill Prison to all prisons in Ireland would enable this."

She added: "At the same time, the prison system has a responsibility to link prisoners with appropriate services, particularly when preparing prisoners for release. IPRT is concerned that the use of temporary release as a safety valve to relieve chronically overcrowded conditions does not allow for properly managed release.”

The article details further comments from prison sources who are  unconvinced by the ability of the prison service to care for those with mental health illnesses.

Originally published in the print edition of the Irish Examiner, 8th March 2010.

For the full story, please see the print edition: front page and pg6.

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