Home > Inaugural meeting of the High Level Taskforce on mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system.

[Department of Justice] Inaugural meeting of the High Level Taskforce on mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system. (28 Apr 2021)

External website: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR21000113

The first meeting of the High Level Taskforce on Mental Health and addition challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system took place via video conference this morning Wednesday 28th April 2021. The meeting was attended by Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne TD, and Ministers of State at the Department of Health, Mary Butler TD and Frank Feighan TD. 

The meeting was chaired by Kathleen Lynch, former Minister of State for Primary Care, Mental Health and Disability, and was attended by high level officials from the Department of Justice, the Probation Service, an Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, the Department of Health and the HSE, the Central Mental Hospital, the Department of Housing and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. 

Speaking after the meeting, Minister Browne said, 

“I am pleased that we are now in a position to drive forward the much needed work on this important issue. The cross-Departmental commitment to addressing this vital but challenging area of work was evident from the clear focus and determination of the members of the Task Force. 

““We engaged in some very valuable discussions today with colleagues across the relevant sectors and we are all very much committed to ensuring that the critical mental health needs of people in prison are met, additional treatments are provided, and primary care support is available on release. 

“However, the group are realistic and know that this will require a significant amount of work in the coming months, but this work has started in earnest and I am confident that the taskforce will continue to progress these matters as a priority” 

The focus of this inaugural meeting was examining the Terms of Reference in the context of the Overview of the Interdepartmental Group’s (IDG) recommendations, as well as a communications plan for moving forward with this work. A copy of both reports from the IDG are available on the website of the Department of Justice. 

Minister Butler said, 

“As reflected in the Programme for Government, we are committed to improving all areas of healthcare, in a more integrated and holistic way for all, including for people who are or have been in prison. Our objectives are underpinned by Slaintecare, Sharing the Vision, and a suite of overarching mental health policies and programmes. 

“I look forward to working with the Taskforce, and my Government colleagues over the coming months to improve policy and services on diverting people with mental health difficulties from the criminal justice system at the earliest possible point. It is also essential that mental health services and supports continue to be enhanced for those who end up in prison, including upon release.  

“Ultimately, an effective cross departmental and sectoral approach is required to provide a range of supports across health, housing, employment and education, and in effect improve outcomes for individuals at risk of, or currently engaged with the criminal justice system.” 

The establishment of the Taskforce is a key goal within Justice Plan 2021 and Officials in the Department are undertaking the role of Secretariat for the group. The current plan is for a high level implementation plan to be published by the Taskforce by the end of the year. 

Minister Feighan said, 

“I welcome the establishment of this task force on mental health and addiction challenges of persons who interact with criminal justice system. People in prison are more likely to have used drugs than the general population. They also are at greater risk of related mental and physical health issues. 

“The task force will have a specific focus on mental health and addiction, commonly known as dual diagnosis. Drug and alcohol misuse frequently co-exist with mental health difficulties. Once mental health and drug and alcohol problems become established, they can negatively impact each other. 

“I support the emphasis on diverting people with additional health needs from prison. Subjecting people who use drugs or have mental health issues to coercive sanctions makes little sense. Indeed, it’s probably counter-productive for health and for community safety in the long term. This aligns with the health-led approach to drug use, which will be implemented in the new health diversion programme due to commence later this year. 

“I believe that the task force can bring added value to the provision of primary care support for offenders on their release from prison. Of particular concern is that being an ex-prisoner is a risk factor in the high level of drug deaths, with one-in-three cases in 2017 having a history of being in prison (134 deaths). This risk is intensified in the six week period upon release from prison, when 14 percent of drug deaths among ex-prisoners take place.”

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