Prisoners and mental illness

Sir, – In its submission to an Oireachtas committee, the Irish Penal Reform Trust point to an increase from 3 per cent to close to 8 per cent in the incidence of severe mental illness among the prison population over the last three years (News, May 23rd). More alarmingly they also point to mental health concerns over the last month for 23 of the 50 residents at Oberstown Detention Centre for those under 18 years (News, May 24th). If we were to add to this the incidence of addiction problems among our prison population, it could be argued that the majority of prisoners have mental health difficulties.

Repairing, maintaining and developing positive relationships are necessary if we are to recover our mental health, yet relationships with loved ones are usually damaged and often do not survive periods of imprisonment.

Prisons are designed to contain individuals rather than treat mental illness. Homelessness, social isolation and deteriorating mental health, followed by repeated periods of imprisonment, are the most likely outcomes for prisoners with severe mental illness.

Urgent changes are necessary in the delivery of mental health services, including the development of alternative forms of residential care, if we are to address the needs of this stigmatised and most vulnerable group. – Yours, etc,