November 15, 2021
Prison mental health report highlights need for improved resource planning – Martin Kenny TD and Mark Ward TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice Martin Kenny TD today called on the Minister for Justice to improve resourcing in the Irish Prison Services following the damning report published by the Mental Health Commission.  

Teachta Kenny today attended the launch of the Access to Mental Health Services for People in the Criminal Justice System Report along with Sinn Féin spokesperson on Mental Health Mark Ward TD.

Speaking afterwards, Teachta Kenny said: 

“It is clear that what we have heard anecdotally over the years has been solidified in a report by Inspector of Mental Health Services, Dr Susan Finnerty.  

“In fact, what is contained in this report is far more serious than any of us imagined. Those who are committing crimes while acutely mentally ill are, essentially, being warehoused in our prison service, often in solitary confinement, with little to no supports to rehabilitate them.

“This failure is in turn having a negative impact on the rates of reoffending.

“If a serious mental health difficulty such as acute psychosis is the root cause of an offence, then what hope is there for rehabilitation if the prisoner cannot access basic mental health services?  

“The end result often leads to reoffending upon release, which also leads to an increase in victims. It is a vicious cycle which is being perpetuated by successive governments’ lack of investment and resource planning in both the Irish Prison Service and the mental health services in the wider community.

“As part of our Alternative Budget, I called for a significant investment in the prison service budget, which would allow for an additional spend on staffing, rehabilitation, and health services.  

“We need reform – both for the safety of staff and prisoners, and to reduce the potential for reoffending. Ireland has one of the highest reoffending rates across Europe and much of that is due to the very low levels of funding for basic services. 

“The call by Dr Finnerty for a diversion programme for people who are offending as a direct result of a serious mental health difficulty is something I and my Sinn Féin colleagues wholeheartedly support.  

“We speak to stakeholders in the community all the time – we are well aware of the faults in the system and we will continue to support communities to correct the wrongs in a broken system that criminalises a person who is unwell.”

Teachta Ward said:

“For too long, the Irish justice system has been the gatekeeper for those experiencing mental health difficulties.

“Gardaí are often the first group to respond to someone who is having a mental health crisis in communities.

“I welcome the pilot project that will begin in Limerick in the New Year, which will see the establishment of a crisis de-escalation team that will treat someone who is having a mental health difficulty in the community. 

“This is something that Sinn Féin has been calling for, and would like to see replicated across the state.

“Some of the conditions that mentally ill people are experiencing in our prisons at present are inhumane. There is no parity of esteem between a prisoner’s mental health and physical health. 

“For example, if a prisoner was suffering from a physical health issue, they would be removed from the prison and treated accordingly. This report is proof that it is not the same treatment for prisoners experiencing mental health problems.

“Sinn Féin will continue to support calls for a diversion programme for people who are mentally unwell, and we will support communities that are experiencing these issues who have clearly been forgotten by successive governments.”

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