Mentally ill prisoners waiting up two years for Central Mental Hospital transfer

Service director warns of ‘escalating risk’ managing inmates with severe psychological conditions


Seriously mentally ill prisoners assessed by psychiatrists as needing admission to the Central Mental Hospital, are having to wait as long as two years to be transferred, newly-obtained records show.

One senior director in the Irish Prison Service warned of an “escalating risk” in “safely managing” inmates with severe psychological conditions because of the waiting times.

Human rights campaigners have described the backlog as a “serious public concern” and are demanding an urgent “whole of government” effort to ensure no-one with serious mental illness is held in a jail.

Records released under Freedom of Information show 16 men and three women were transferred from Irish prisons to the Central Mental Hospital last year.

One of them, a male inmate, was admitted in June – 13 months after he was clinically assessed by consultant forensic psychiatrists as needing to be transferred.

Another man transferred last June had been on the waiting list since four days before Christmas 2017. Another had to wait five months from being assessed as needing psychiatric care, in November 2017, to being admitted, in April 2018.

The records for the past three years also show one male inmate was assessed as needing admission to the Central Mental Hospital in August 2015. He was not transferred until September 2017 – spending a further two years in prison.

In 2017, there were 20 admissions from prisons to the Central Mental Hospital. Half were men and half were women. The records show women are generally admitted much quicker, some on the same day, but some have to wait weeks.

Prison is an 'entirely inappropriate environment for people with severe psychiatric disorders, and only deepens distress'

There were 21 admissions in 2016, a third of them women. One man was kept in prison between January 2015, when he was assessed as needing to be transferred, until his eventual admission in March 2016. Another man was on the waiting list from July 2015 to January the following year.

Emails also released show Fergal Black, Irish Prison Service director of care and rehabilitation, wrote to colleagues in September last year, warning of an “escalating risk” in “safely managing prisoners suffering from a severe mental health illness” because of difficulties getting them into the Central Mental Hospital.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said prison is an “entirely inappropriate environment for people with severe psychiatric disorders, and only deepens distress.”

“This is made worse by overcrowding, high numbers locked up for more than 21 hours per day, and prison psychology and psychiatry staffing ratios that are well below targets,” she added.

“It is of serious public concern that people who have been clinically assessed as in need of immediate transfer to the Central Mental Hospital are being held for weeks, months and, in some cases, years in Ireland’s prisons.”

Ms Ní Chinnéide said “Ireland has a dark history of detaining people in inappropriate settings” and a “whole of Government response is now urgently needed to ensure no one with severe mental illness is held in prison”.

The HSE said the Central Mental Hospital has 103 inpatient beds and operates at “100 per cent bed occupancy”.

“Due to a high demand for the limited number of forensic inpatient beds, admissions are systematically triaged according to the level of therapeutic security required and the urgency of clinical need,” a spokeswoman said.

She said a new hospital, to replace the Central Mental Hospital being built at Portrane, north county Dublin, will have 170 in-patients. That includes a new Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and an Intensive Care Rehabilitation Unit. The Irish Prison Service said it has an “in-reach mental health service that is made available to persons in custody”.