Irish Times view on imprisoning people who are mentally ill

Minister of State Jim Daly was advised it was “wholly inappropriate” to send people with severe mental illness to Cloverhill Prison

For decades, prison chaplains issued official reports complaining the system was being used as “a dumping ground” for individuals with psychiatric illnesses. Nothing happened until 2010. Then, at a time when the prison system was grossly overcrowded and money was in short supply, the decision was taken to close or to refurbish 14 psychiatric institutions within the health system. You can imagine the knock-on effects. So, the Department of Justice took pre-emptive action and ruled that the offending reports would not be published. Prison chaplains were being publicly gagged.

Records obtained by this newspaper under freedom of information legislation show that fewer than half of the required number of reports had been submitted during the past nine years. Only one was received in 2016. Not a single report was sent from Mountjoy or Arbour Hill between 2014 and 2018. And nothing had changed within the system. The latest report from the chaplain at Cloverhill Prison put it bluntly: "The State is failing people who are mentally ill by knowingly relying on the existence of Cloverhill Prison to incarcerate them, rather than addressing their particular needs in other, more appropriate ways."

Minister of State at the Department of Health Jim Daly was advised it was "wholly inappropriate" to send people with severe mental illness to Cloverhill, one of the State's largest prisons, and that they should be accommodated in "appropriate healthcare facilities". The prison section that caters for people with mental illness is currently overcrowded and prisoners are required to sleep on the floor. Critical reports were also sent from Midlands and Wheatfield prisons concerning inadequate care for mentally unwell inmates. Concerns were expressed about the way in which elderly and infirm prisoners were being treated; about a shortage of staff to operate workshops and about inadequate supports for prisoners following their release.

Many things are wrong with our prisons. But nothing stinks like the incarceration of mentally sick people.