Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Written answer 42 - Prison committals [6765/07].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Written answer 42 - Prison committals [6765/07]. (22 Feb 2007)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

42 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on and proposals for action in relation to the outcome of the study by a team led by the director of the Central Mental Hospital which revealed that 60% of female prisoners and 35% of male prisoners have experienced a mental illness at some stage in their lives and criticised the use of prisons as psychiatric waiting rooms. [6765/07]

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): The study referred to by the Deputy was undertaken in 2003 by a team from the Central Mental Hospital. The Irish Prison Service was pleased to facilitate and part-fund this study. I welcome the findings which clarify for the first time the actual level of various mental health problems among the Irish prison population. The findings of the study confirm that the rates of diagnosed mental illness among prisoners are significantly higher than in comparable community populations. This finding is common to prison populations in many jurisdictions.

The study found that drugs and alcohol dependence and harmful use were by far the most common problems, present in between 61% and 79% of prisoners.

The rate of mental illness ranged from 16% of male committals to 27% of sentenced men, while in women committed to prison the rate was 41%, with 60% of sentenced women having a mental illness. T

he Irish Prison Service must accept all persons committed into their custody on foot of legal orders of the Court. A person committed to prison may have or develop a mental illness. The Irish Prison Service is committed to healthcare standards comparable with those pertaining in the wider community outside prison. Prisoners have access to medical, nursing, psychiatric and psychological services within the prison system. The psychiatric needs of prisoners are serviced by visiting psychiatrists. The Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, 2006 provides that where on the basis of medical assessment, a prisoner is considered to require specialist treatment that cannot be provided in prison that prisoner may be transferred to a designated centre for treatment. The Central Mental Hospital is currently the only such designated centre.

Due to increased demand on this facility from various sources in recent years it has frequently been the situation that a waiting list occurs for admission and priority is on clinical need. This situation arises in spite of general agreement regarding the necessity for admission and, while awaiting a bed to become available, the prison authorities may be left with no alternative but to seek to manage a disturbed individual in conditions which provide the greatest degree of protection for the individual, for other prisoners, and for staff. As the Deputy will be aware the question of resources for the Central Mental Hospital is a matter for the Health Service Executive. My Department is working closely with the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive with a view to ensuring that the necessary mental health facilities are available to prisoners and that any prisoner deemed to require in-patient mental health treatment does not encounter unreasonable waiting times in prison awaiting any such transfer.

Furthermore the Irish Prison Service has promoted the integration of prison based mental health structures and provision with community structures in surrounding areas and are engaged in an on-going process with the Health Service Executive aimed at promoting such integration at a practical level. This will require the active involvement of local services. If it is considered that specific or dedicated community structures are required to facilitate such integration this issue would come within the remit of the Department of Health and Children / Health Service Executive. I should also advise the Deputy that specialist in-reach services to address mental health problems are being expanded in cooperation with the relevant health agencies. In addition, the Irish Prison Service is in the process of implementing the Drugs Policy & Strategy - ’Keeping Drugs Out of Prisons’ and this is intended to significantly improve the coordination and resources available to support prisoners seeking to address their substance misuse problems while in prison. In this context a range of expanded services in the area of Drug Treatment are in the process of being implemented. Written Answers Thursday, 22 February 2007

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