Solitary confinement can impact on prisoners’ mental health
NI Prison Ombudsman says time spent in isolation ‘very bad for the mind’
Prison healthcare in Maghaberry prison and at the Hydebank and Magilligan prison sites is the responsibility of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
Solitary confinement can impact on the mental health of prison inmates, especially those already affected by psychiatric difficulties, a prison watchdog has warned.
Reacting to figures showing prisoners are being held for months and even years in care and supervision units (CSU), Northern Ireland Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle said: “It’s not good for anybody’s mental health to spend so much time in isolation away from the general population.
“Prison restricts the opportunities to interact with normal society in any event, so the CSU is essentially a prison within a prison.”
Such inmates are separated from the rest of the prison population. “They can’t go to work, they can’t go to education, they can’t do offending programmes while they’re in the CSU.
“That’s a further restriction of a person’s opportunity to interact and to learn how to conduct themselves in a responsible and a reasonable way within the prison population so it’s very bad for the mind.”
Prisoners’ psychiatric conditions and personality disorders have been a common thread in critical reports into the North’s three prison sites in recent years.
Mr McGonigle said he believed the current system was having an impact on vulnerable inmates entering the prison system who can often end up in solitary confinement. “It really is a societal issue whereby we need to decide how we treat those very damaged people who commit offences.”
For example, many of those prisoners who end up in the CSU can have personality disorders, but in Northern Ireland a personality disorder is not defined as a treatable condition.
In a statement the trust said: “All individuals located within the care and supervision unit are seen daily by healthcare professionals in relation to both their physical and mental healthcare needs.
“Trust mental health professionals initiate referral processes to secure psychiatric facilities where this is clinically appropriate and in line with regional referral criteria.”