Mentally ill woman forcibly ejected from prison against her will


A NUMBER OF investigations have begun after a mentally ill, homeless and drug-addicted woman was granted early release just weeks into a six-month jail term and was forcibly removed from prison after saying she had nowhere to go.

The prisoner, a Dubliner in her mid-20s, was carried by staff from the women’s Dóchas Centre in the Mountjoy Prison complex, in north Dublin, and left on the pavement outside.

She then tried to scale the gates back into the centre. After producing a scissors during the disturbance, which was described as “tragic” by sources, she was arrested by gardaí.

She was four weeks into a six-month jail term for theft.

The Irish Prison Service, which ordered the woman’s unstructured release on May 25th despite concerns expressed by prison staff, is investigating the incident.

Separate inquiries are also being conducted by the Dóchas Centre visiting committee.

Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly has been informed and is expected to launch his own investigation.

The prison service has now issued new instructions to all prison governors relating to the granting of early release – or “full temporary release” as the service calls it – to inmates with a history of mental illness.

It has reminded prison governors of the public safety issues that can arise when mentally ill inmates are granted early release.

It has also urged governors to consult mental health staff when any mentally ill inmates are being released saying if the guidelines are followed, care in the community can be planned.

The woman who was released against her will has a history of self-harm and has spent a number of periods in psychiatric hospitals. She was given no warning she was about to be released and no arrangements had been made.

Sources familiar with the case said the early release was ordered by officials within the Irish Prison Service after the inmate had apparently become infatuated with a member of staff at the jail. However, The Irish Times understands staff at the Dóchas Centre raised their concerns with the prison service about granting short-notice unstructured release to a mentally ill vulnerable woman.

These concerns were over-ruled and staff were told to carry out the release immediately and to report to the prison service when it was done. However, a number of sources said the issue could have been resolved without forcibly ejecting the woman.

Said one source: “It’s unprecedented that somebody would be forcibly removed and that nothing would be arranged for them on the outside, particularly with a homeless woman who’s been in and out of psychiatric institutions.”

The woman spent some of her childhood in care. She developed a drug habit and progressed to injecting cocaine, a highly addictive habit that is expensive to feed. Most of her convictions relate to crimes committed to feed her addiction.

News of her botched early release comes just weeks after the outgoing governor of the Dóchas Centre Kathleen McMahon expressed serious concerns about the centre.

She said it was now so overcrowded that the progressive rehabilitative elements were being cannibalised.

Ms McMahon said it was clear the prison service was planning for long-term overcrowding at the Dóchas Centre because bunk beds had been moved into rooms designed for one woman.

She was also critical of prison service management for failing to consult with staff in prisons on key issues.