A report by Gary Culliton for the Irish Medical Times ('When prison is no substitute for hospital', 25th July 2012), describes the challenges of managing mental health in a prison setting, despite recent progress in Mountjoy prison. The high prevalence of mental illness among prisoners is well documented. Five prisoners have died by suicide in the past five years, and a further twenty deaths are pending inquest.
Mountjoy prison has been criticised in the past for its overuse of Special Observation Cells (SOCs), but since June of this year, prisoners can only be assigned to SOCs by a medical practitioner or nurse and cannot be used for management purposes. Mountjoy prison has its own 10-bed High Support Unit (HSU) for the assessment and treatment of acute phases of mental illness, which is also used as a step-down facility for those returning from treatment in the Central Medical Hospital. Nevertheless, a shortage of beds at the Central Mental Hospital continues to put pressure on mental health care resources at the prison.
Minister Alan Shatter has indicated that the High Support Unit will be rolled out nationally within 12 to 18 months.