Irish Penal Reform Trust

Joined-up approach to mental health in the criminal justice system will improve outcomes and reduce reoffending – IPRT

4th March 2021

There are significant unmet mental health needs among people under probation supervision, and better integration with mainstream mental health services is needed. This will improve individual outcomes and reduce reoffending, which benefits everyone. Progress on the Programme for Government commitment to address mental health in the criminal justice system through inter-departmental working is promising. However, this commitment must be met by staffing and resources to address a historical lack of joined-up thinking around trauma, mental health and offending behaviour.

This is according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), responding to a new Probation Service research report ‘Moving Forward Together: Mental Health Among Persons Supervised by the Probation Service’, published today (04.03.2021) by Minister for Justice Ms Helen McEntee TD.

The research identifies a higher prevalence of mental health problems among people engaged in probation services, and makes a number of recommendations, including: stronger integration with community mental health services, mental health training for probation officers, staff supports, multi-disciplinary approaches, and improved recording of deaths of people under probation supervision.

Commenting on the launch of the research, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated:

“The Justice Plan 2021 commits to establishing a new cross-Departmental Task Force on Mental Health this spring, with publication of a high-level implementation plan by the end of the year. It is critical that this commitment is met with staffing and resources from both health and justice to make sure plans are actually put into action, and that this Task Force doesn’t fail as previous inter-departmental groups have done.

It is crucial that the Task Force also addresses the longer-term mental health impact Covid-19 will have on those in contact with the justice system.

Unmet mental health needs can present barriers for people to engage in services designed to support people to move away from offending. Therefore, as well as serving as an investment in the health needs of vulnerable populations, investment in mental health resources is also an investment in safer communities and can lead to reduced justice spending. It is also the right thing to do.

Minister McEntee has shown strong leadership in taking action to provide for the complex needs of people with mental health difficulties who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Sustained leadership in this area will be crucial to the realisation of Government commitments.”

While co-occurring issues were not explored in depth in the Probation Service research, addiction challenges, poor family relationships, and unstable accommodation often co-exist with mental health issues and impact a person’s ability to make positive changes in their lives. A joined-up approach is essential to address these challenges.

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  • The Irish Penal Reform Trust was responding to the publication of ‘Moving Forward Together: Mental Health Among Persons Supervised by the Probation Service’ by the Probation Service, available here.
  • Key statistics: Studies conducted as part of this research found that at least 40% of adults on a Probation Supervision Order, compared to 18.5% of the general population, present with symptoms indicative of at least one mental health problem. Women present with higher rates of active symptoms and higher rates of contact with services currently and in the past for mental health problems. Approximately 50% of all people supervised by the Probation Service in the community that present with mental health problems also present with one or more of the following issues as well: alcohol and drug misuse, difficult family relationships, and accommodation instability.
  • The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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