The high-level taskforce on mental health and addition challenges of those interacting with the criminal justice system met virtually yesterday to examine implementation terms of reference, as well as a communications plan.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne and Ministers of State at the Department of Health, Mary Butler and Frank Feighan, heard that prisoners have critical mental-health needs that will require resources and additional treatments, as well as primary care support on release.
Minister Feighan said that those in prison are more likely to have used drugs than the general population, and are also 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,” he said.
“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% of drug deaths among ex-prisoners take place.”
Yesterday’s meeting was chaired by Kathleen Lynch, former Minister of State for Primary Care, Mental Health and Disability, and was attended by officials from:
- Department of Justice,
- Probation Service,
- An Garda Síochána,
- Irish Prison Service,
- Department of Health and HSE,
- Central Mental Hospital,
- Department of Housing,
- 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.”
Minister Butler (small picture) 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.”
A high-level implementation plan is expected to be published by the task force by the end of the year.