Prison a ‘powder keg’ for people with psychiatric problems

PRISON has been described by the Irish Penal Reform Trust as the worst possible place for a person with schizophrenia and a “powder keg” for people with psychiatric problems after a 25-year-old Dubliner, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, was found guilty of the manslaughter of a fellow Mountjoy inmate.

Stephen Egan was found guilty on grounds of diminished responsibility of killing 21-year-old Gary Douche in a holding prison cell.

The jury at the Central Criminal Court accepted evidence that Stephen Egan, of Belcamp Crescent in Coolock, was suffering from a mental illness when he attacked Douche on August 1, 2006.

The court heard Egan was transferred from the Central Mental Hospital to Mountjoy Prison three days before the killing, without his anti-psychotic medication.

At the time he attacked Douche, he was one of seven inmates in the cell.

Irish Penal Reform Trust director Liam Herrick said the Douche case raised “really fundamental questions about how the prison service and the medical authorities deal with people who are in need of acute medical care”.

The UN and Council of Europe have repeatedly raised concerns with such issues in Irish prisons.

“The HSE capacity to provide appropriate psychiatric services in prison is clearly at question. The proportion of funds dedicated to mental health services has declined over the years. Staff at the Central Mental Hospital are now doing an excellent job at trying to plug the gaps in the system,” he said on RTÉ Radio.

“We can see that prison is the worst possible place for somebody with schizophrenia, that stress can exacerbate the condition; that prisons are often overcrowded... and conditions are poor. This is a powder keg for someone who has psychiatric problems, someone who is maybe hearing voices”.

The McMurrow Statutory Commission of Investigation was set up in 2007 by former justice minister Michael McDowell to investigate the Douche death. The decision followed a “shocking report” by former senior civil servant, Michael Mellett into the incident at Mountjoy.

“If there is not enough beds in the Central Mental Hospital, even when someone is diagnosed as being a serious danger, they are held for extensive periods in prison,” said Mr Herrick.

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