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Irish Times: Growing concerns about mental health in Irish prisons

23rd July 2019

A recent article in the Irish Times has reported an increase in the number of assaults on prison officers in Irish prisons. The Irish Prison Service has recognised that these figures present a substantial concern for the organisation. 

Speaking to the rising number of assaults, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Fíona Ní Chinnéide, reiterated that an important step in reducing violence in prison is the removal of prisoners with mental health issues. She stated, “Transfer of prisoners to suitable psychiatric facilities is beyond the control of the Prison Service, and demands a whole-of-Government response, including close cooperation between health and justice. An immediate action that could be taken is to ring-fence sufficient spaces for the Prison Service in the new forensic mental health facilities at Portrane.”

This recommendation is in agreement with the Review of Assaults on Operational Prison Staff by Prisoners conducted by the State Claims Agency in 2016. This review found that assaults in prison are very often carried out by a small cohort of individuals with challenging behaviours and/or mental health issues. The review group recommended that prisoners with serious mental health issues should be taken out of the prison system. The Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum is currently the only health facility in Ireland with spaces for forensic patients. As the CMH is very often operating at full capacity, prisoners can face a considerable waiting period before admission. 

The Irish Times has also recently reported on the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan’s call for greater measures to be taken to address the needs of prisoners with mental illness. He pointed to the establishment of the Violence Reduction Unit in Midlands prison, and the development of the new mental health facility in Portrane as positive steps. However, the Minister also highlighted the need for more options to be made available to judges with respect to sentencing in the case of individuals with mental health issues. Additionally, the Minister made reference to the inclusion of greater numbers of psychiatrists and psychologists as part of prison staff. Minister Flanagan stated that as part of effective education and healthcare in prison, all people in custody require access to mental health services as part of their preparation for release.

You can read the Irish Times article on prison staff assaults, by Brian Hutton, here.

You can read the Irish Times article on prisoners’ mental health, by Conor Gallagher, here.

Further details of the SCA Review on Assaults on Operational Prison Staff by Prisoners as well as IPRT’s comment on the review can be found here.

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