On Wed 17th October 2018, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Future of Mental Health Care published its final report, with a core recommendation to increase the number of acute psychiatric beds from 22 to 50 per 100,000 over 3 years.
In its report, the Committee identified that a decrease in acute services in the community has coincided with a rise of mental health needs in prisons; it further notes that the prison system and the Central Mental Hospital are currently experiencing a shortage in funding and recruitment to meet mental health care needs. The Committee makes a number of recommendations, representing cross-party agreement on ensuring the provision of a comprehensive mental healthcare service in Ireland.
IPRT made both a submission and a presentation to the Committee, which can be accessed here.
IPRT's view is that prison is an inappropriate environment for people with severe mental health issues, which only exacerbates their illness. Moreover, a core principle of penal reform is that prison should only ever be used as a sanction of last resort, and only as a response to the most serious offences or to offenders who present a serious risk to society. Prison should not be used as a response to mental health needs or addictions issues.
Instead, the needs of people with mental health and/or addictions issues should be met through diversion to more appropriate facilities in the community. In short, investment in mental health services in the community is urgently needed to ensure that prison is never used as a response to failures in Ireland’s health system.