Home > Select Committee on Justice debate. Vote 44 - Data Protection Commission (Revised) [Prisons].

[Oireachtas] Select Committee on Justice debate. Vote 44 - Data Protection Commission (Revised) [Prisons]. (30 Mar 2021)

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Deputy Martin Kenny: …With regard to the additional funding to do more work on the prisons, provide more buildings and space and improve quality, I am particularly interested in the move of the Central Mental Hospital to Portrane. I suppose we need to have some clarity on it. There has been some talk by the Central Mental Hospital about how it can achieve clarity on all this because it is, in effect, taking into its care people who are committed by the courts, yet it is a hospital providing a health service. Some work needs to be done on that. I am also concerned that very many of the people who end up on the relevant programme are people who have had psychotic episodes because of drug abuse and drug addiction. They can end up in the hospital under those circumstances.

I have heard from gardaí on the beat that very often, when they have people they know are a danger to themselves and the public - often times, they are underage - and they want to find somewhere to put them, there is nowhere they can go with them. The spaces are all full. I know the new facility will have additional spaces, which is welcome, but I am hearing is that the additional spaces in Portrane will not be adequate to deal with the extent of this problem. The impact of crack cocaine on young people in these circumstances in recent months, particularly in Dublin, will put more pressure on that service. I do not have a specific question about the budget but I feel that we need an emphasis to ensure our Prison Service meets those challenges because they are real challenges that will hit us very hard if we cannot cope with them in the future. Sometimes people who should be in a safe space are not and can go out and harm themselves or other people. We have seen the consequences of that recently. I do not want to get into any specific cases but it is certainly having a real impact on people and the families of those individuals, who feel they should be put away somewhere because they are a danger to themselves, their families and the public. This needs urgent attention.

Chairman: I might take the response of the Minister rather than going to the next member.

Deputy Helen McEntee: The Deputy identified something that could apply to most of the Votes. Some of the changes brought about by Covid-19, be they in An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service or the Courts Service, have been made out of necessity but, hopefully, they will remain and ensure the smoother and better running of the Irish Prison Service and other services. Regarding additional funding to support the development of services to include additional ICT to allow for visits, using technology to invest in the Courts Service and going back to our previous Vote, An Garda Síochána, the increased use of technology is beneficial not just in saving time and resources such as prison staff or gardaí not being required to travel to courts or different hearings, it is also beneficial for prisoners as it prevents taking people in and out when it is not necessary. There are a lot of advantages to some of the changes that have been made. In dealing with the Irish Prison Service specifically on this question, its intention is that any of these improvements would continue irrespective of whether we are still in the midst of Covid.

The Central Mental Hospital is not part of the prisons Vote but I am very conscious that there is a significant problem in that there are people in prison who have significant mental health problems and require significant help and have a dual diagnosis where they have mental health problems and drug or alcohol addiction. I brought a memorandum to Cabinet today to establish a mental health task force to examine prisons, the care provided, follow-on care when people enter the community and how we can prevent that cycle from continuing where people do not get the support they need and find themselves back in prison. Some of the consultation we will undertake involves identifying people with mental health challenges or a dual diagnosis of mental health difficulties and drug or alcohol addition challenges so it will cover much of what the Deputy raised. Our former colleague, Kathleen Lynch, will chair the group, which between the Departments of Justice and Health will consider many recommendations that have been set out in a number of reports published in the past few years and build on other work that has been done between our community health teams, within the Irish Prison Service and working with the Central Mental Hospital. Significant work has been done there but there is a lot of work still to do, particularly given the lack of bed capacity or spaces and the fact that the Irish Prison Service is dealing with prisoners with severe mental issues or other diagnoses. We need to make sure we have the capacity to support them but that they are supported in the most appropriate way while at the same time, acknowledging that some of these people have committed crimes and are in prison because of that. I hope to progress that work having brought that memorandum to Cabinet today. I will support the work of the committee in respect of any recommendations it makes.

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