All too often people with complex and challenging needs end up in prison because it is the only service with no waiting list, a mental health expert has said.
Aine Flynn, who is employed by the Mental Health Commission and is the director of the Decision Support Service, was commenting
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 dirty feet and a rare nail disease not seen in Ireland in decades. His filthy bed linen had not been changed in months.
“Minor criminal charges often operate simply to contain people like this man while the crisis in their care goes unresolved,” said Ms Flynn.
She said the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 would ensure that the man would not be declared a person of unsound mind.
It would also replace “the blunt instrument” approach of wardship with a framework of regulated decision-making supports.
However, the act has yet to be fully commenced as well as the establishment of the Decision Support Service for adults with decision-making difficulties.
“Under the new regime, this man could have the benefit of a dedicated decision supporter in respect of personal welfare matters including accommodation, access to social services and healthcare,” said Ms Flynn.
The executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Fíona Ní Chinnéide, said prison is being used to warehouse the effects of social policy failures and that has to stop.
Ms Ní Chinnéide, who was speaking on RTÉ radio, was glad that Justice and Equality Minister, Charlie Flanagan, intends to discuss the man's case with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris because a lack of “joined-up thinking” across government departments is at the root of the problem.
A high-level task force across the Department of Health, Department of Justice and Equality, the HSE, the courts, An Garda Síochana and other agencies is needed and it should be led by the Department of An Taoiseach, she said.
Social activist and co-founder of Trust, Alice Leahy, also speaking on RTÉ radio, said the case of the imprisoned man is “truly appalling”.
“This is happening in our capital city in 2019 and I think this needs to be investigated,” said Ms Leahy.
Director of the Central Mental Hospital, Prof Harry Kennedy, said the case of a brain-damaged homeless man in prison is “far from rare”. The hospital has a caseload of around 250 people in prisons with severe mental illness or disorders.
“That is about 6% of everybody in prison at the moment. About 3% of those who come through the doors have those needs. That's about 300 people a year," said Prof Kennedy.