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Reformers call for dual diagnosis model in jails

23 Apr 2024 / justice Print

Reformers call for dual diagnosis model in jails

Mental Health Reform research has found that men in prison face significant barriers in accessing mental-health care.

Staffing shortages, long waiting lists. and language barriers impede prisoners from receiving critical intervention.

The report highlights the need for increased funding to support prisoners experiencing mental-health difficulties and addiction issues.

The study draws on survey data, focus groups, and interviews with 21 prison staff across nine prisons – including prison officers, psychologists, nurses, and GPs. 

A total of 12 men across five prisons took part in one-to-one interviews.


Commenting, chief executive Fiona Coyle said: “This research sought to better understand the mental-health services and supports available to adults in closed-prisons, including the pathways to accessing these resources and potential barriers.

“More than 4,500 people are currently detained in the Irish Prison Service. There is a high rate of mental-health difficulties among the Irish prison population. Many individuals are severely affected by loneliness, drug misuse and overcrowding,” she said.

Coyle added that national policy committed to offering a range of tiered supports for prisoners and that, once accessed, mental-health services can be a vital lifeline for prisoners.

Low-level supports such as psycho-education workshops and addiction support groups could have a significant impact, she added.

Findings also highlight the crucial role of voluntary and community listening services, mental-health promotion efforts, and addiction counselling.

Mental Health Reform has called for a whole-of-government approach, with increased investment and staffing to ensure prisoners receive support at the earliest possible juncture.

There is a need to increase awareness of the voluntary and community sector in the prison system, the campaigners state.

Sustainable, multi-annual funding is essential to implement the ‘dual-diagnosis’ model of care for those experiencing both mental-health difficulties and addiction.

Scaling up

Dual diagnosis should be resourced and piloted in jails, with a view to scaling up the service across the prison estate.

The report also underscores the importance of diverting people with mental-health difficulties away from the prison system and into mental-health services. 

“Where diversion is not possible, it is crucial to ensure access to tiered mental-health services and supports within the prisons,” Coyle said.

The report makes 15 recommendations in total.

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