30th September 2022
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today (Fri 30 September 2022) welcomed the Final Report and recommendations of the High Level Task Force to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of those who come into contact with the criminal justice sector.
The publication of this report delivers on a key Programme for Government commitment and builds on previous reports, including from the Interdepartmental Group established to examine issues relating to people with mental illness who come in contact with the criminal justice system, published in 2009, 2012 and 2018 respectively.
Responding to the Report and recommendations, Saoirse Brady, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), stated:
“We welcome the Task Force’s holistic approach in recognising the role of all actors within the criminal justice system in ensuring that people with mental health or addiction issues are diverted from prison where this is possible and appropriate. For too long – and in the absence of adequate quality mental health and addiction treatment services in the community – prison has been the default option for people who experience these challenges. We also welcome the acknowledgement that very often mental health and addiction issues are the result of earlier trauma experienced by an individual.
“The emphasis on multi-agency responses and interdepartmental working will be key to the successful roll-out of the recommendations. The joint leadership of the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD and Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, along with their colleagues Ministers of State in the Department of Health, Mary Butler TD and Frank Feighan TD, signal a welcome coordinated approach that must continue if we are to see real and meaningful change. Historically, the criminal justice sector has been left to pick up the pieces when people come into contact with that system through their mental health or addiction often with devastating and tragic consequences. There must be an ongoing recognition at all levels within the Department of Health, Health Service Executive and other relevant agencies that they all have a responsibility to the individuals who require their care and this will ultimately prevent further harm and in some cases even save lives.
“From public opinion polling that IPRT commissioned over a decade ago, we know that the vast majority of the Irish public believe that mentally ill people who commit an offence should be treated in a mental health facility instead of being sent to prison and that those with an addiction issue should receive appropriate treatment. The implementation of this report would mean that policy-making will finally have caught up with this important perspective”.
Ms Brady continued:
“While issues relating to mental health, addiction and trauma continue to be evident amongst the prison population, the High Level Task Force report provides clear, evidence-based solutions to take a person-centred approach, reduce the number of people who should not be in prison in the first place and ensure that people with significant mental health and/or addiction needs get the help that they require.
“We welcome the pragmatic approach the High Level Task Force, chaired by Kathleen Lynch, has taken in setting out clear recommendations that can be implemented in the short-term and also those that are cost-neutral. However, given that the report and recommendations are being published in the same week as Budget 2023, we are concerned that all the recommendations, particularly those that will clearly require further funding, have not been costed. While we know that change will not happen overnight, we feel this is a missed opportunity and without a clear sense of what resources are needed and available, we are a long way off full implementation of these welcome proposals. There is an explicit intention to track the outcomes of the implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations – with a specific reference on social inclusion/marginalised groups – but it must take into account resource allocation”.
Ms Brady concluded:
“This report and its recommendations highlight that addressing the mental health difficulties and dual diagnosis issues of those in contact with the criminal justice system is the realistic and responsible approach to maximising public safety, strengthening rehabilitative efforts and ensuring that public money is used in the most effective way possible. Today’s publication is an important milestone in taking a more progressive and human-rights based approach to some of the most vulnerable members of our society”.
For all media enquiries or for interviews requests, please contact Saoirse Brady, Executive Director on 087 181 2990
NOTES FOR EDITOR
IPRT has made a number of submissions and presentations on mental health in the criminal justice system including:
Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.