Mental health experts have warned of “systematic discrimination” against people with serious mental illness in the criminal justice system as new figures show a high level of psychosis among remand prisoners.
A pilot project at Cloverhill prison identified psychosis – arising from conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – in 561 new remands, from 2006-2011.
The study was presented to a gathering of European forensic psychiatrists who are meeting in Dublin this weekend. It follows research showing that almost 8 per cent of male remand prisoners have psychotic symptoms, which is 10 times the rate of the community at large.
Psychosis is defined as an abnormal condition of the mind, and should not be confused with psychopathic behavioural disorders, experts stress.
Prof Harry Kennedy, clinical director of the Central Mental Hospital, says figures across the entire prison system are "quite frightening", with an estimated 300 people with severe mental illness coming into prison every year.
“If you start multiplying up over a 10-year period,” Prof Kennedy adds, “there is a very strong chance that any young man with a recent onset of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder may spend some time in prison – and it’s no respecter of class.”
Minister of State Kathleen Lynch has reiterated the Government's pledge to create four regional intensive care units to relieve pressure on the Central Mental Hospital, the State's only specialist forensic mental health facility. It has complained for some time about the scale of court referrals and has a constant waiting list.
“We are going back into negotiations on the budget but I hope we can continue to get the type of development funding that is necessary in order to ensure that we deliver a service in mental health that lives up to its name.”
In addition, “we are developing an exit programme from prisons” which would give support to vulnerable people re-entering society. This would run alongside existing court diversion and in-prison mental health services.
The Cloverhill project has diverted more than 700 prisoners to mental health care settings since it was established in 2006 but it covers fewer than 60 per cent of the remand population, according to mental health campaigners.