Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT presentation to High Level Task Force on mental health and addiction

29th July 2021

In response to an invitation, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) presented our initial observations on the Terms of Reference of the High Level Task Force to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system.

Presenting to members of the Task Force on Thursday 29 July 2021, IPRT addressed each of the Terms of Reference (detailed under ‘Note to Editors’ here) and suggested key issues and resources for the Task Force to consider.

Looking at the first Term of Reference, to assess how best to take forward the recommendations from the First and Second Reports of the Inter-Departmental Group to examine issues relating to people with mental illness who come in contact with the Criminal Justice System, we picked out some of the broad themes arising from these two reports, which we think are particularly relevant to the work of the Task Force now.

With regard to diversion, IPRT highlighted the ways in which diversion can be improved, including evidence-based examples, and pointed to evidence to suggest that the public supports diverting people with mental health and addiction needs away from prison.

On the issue of provision of mental health services for people in prison and engaging with probation, IPRT noted concerns around the delays in admitting people with severe mental illness to the CMH, pointing to average waiting times and waiting lists as detailed in our PIPS reports. We also outlined the benefits of transferring the responsibility of prison healthcare to the HSE.

As the Task Force is considering the recommendations from the First and Second Inter-Departmental Group reports on mental health, IPRT took the opportunity to suggest that the Task Force consider incorporating some of the discussion around “trauma-informed services” that was not perhaps as prevalent at the time the reports were written. The criminal justice system is often dealing with people who have suffered multiple traumas, and mental health and addiction issues are often quite normal responses to that trauma. They are simply coping as best they know how to, and trauma-informed services offer one way of responding to that pain and helping people move beyond it to a more fulfilling and calmer life.

Looking at the second Term of Reference, we made recommendations on the Task Force’s consultation with stakeholders and emphasised the importance of meaningful consultation, where the voices of people are both heard and considered. People are the experts within their own lives.

Finally, on the third and fourth Terms of Reference, IPRT provided observations on the work plan of the Task Force, particularly on the importance of reporting and transparency. We recommended that the Task Force focus on addressing gaps in data collection and publication. We also recommended an independent oversight group that could track the progress of the actions and make recommendations for modification or distribution of resources. An example of oversight work being carried out is that of the Implementation Oversight Group of the Strategic Review of Penal Policy.

We noted that another practical way of the Task Force remaining transparent is through the establishment of a dedicated web page with details such as Task Force membership, meetings, implementation reports as well as any relevant consultations and presentations carried out.  We stated that we would be happy, for example, if the Task Force wanted to make our presentation publicly available on such a web page.

We appreciated the opportunity to present to the Task Force and look forward to continuing to engage with this pivotal programme of work.

(IPRT has been calling for a High Level Task Force on mental health and imprisonment since 2019, and the establishment of a cross-departmental Task Force on mental health was one of IPRT’s 5 Key Recommendations for the Programme for Government 2020+.)

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