Fíona Ní Chinnéide of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, has described the case of a brain-damaged homeless man, who is being held on remand in Mountjoy Prison, as a "social policy failure" and called for adequate care to be provided to him.
She told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show that too many people who should be in therapeutic and psychiatric settings were being held in prisons.
On Thursday, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, said it was “staggering” that the man was in the prison's high dependency unit for a year, despite persistent reports that he was of unsound mind and needed residential care.
The man was described as having filthy feet and a rare nail disease not seen in Ireland in decades.
His bed linen in the high dependency unit of Mountjoy Prison, was filthy and had not been changed in months, the court heard.
Ms Ní Chinnéide said while they do not know the prevalence of people with mental health issues and disabilities in the prison system, the most recent detailed analysis found 16% of men on remand and 27% of men under sentence had mental health issues or mental illness.
For women, the figure was higher, with 41% of women on remand having mental health issues or illness.
“Prison is being used to warehouse the effects of social policy failures and that has to stop.”
Ms Ní Chinnéide said while she welcomes the Minister for Justice's statement that he intends to discuss this particular case urgently with the Minister for Health, she said a “lack of joined-up thinking” across Government departments was the root of the problem.
A high level taskforce across the Department of Health, Department of Justice, the HSE, the courts, An Garda Síochána and other agencies was needed and it should be led by the Department of An Taoiseach, she said.