The State is breaching its obligations to provide proper care to prisoners with mental illnesses and this needs to be treated “as a matter of extreme urgency”, the prison watchdog has said.
The Inspector of Prisons also accused the Irish Prison Service (IPS) of not complying with the law in relation to prisoner complaints and expressed her “gravest concerns” on the matter.
Publishing her 2019 annual report, Patricia Gilheaney said: “As a State, Ireland is currently not meeting its obligations to ensure adequate healthcare provision for mentally ill prisoners who are not receiving the treatment they require.”
Ms Gilheaney said many were on an “extremely restricted” daily regime.
She added: “While the inspectorate understands that limited out-of-cell time is a measure imposed to ensure the safety needs of mentally ill prisoners and others in the prison, these restrictions amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.
“The treatment of mentally ill prisoners must be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency," she said.
Ms Gilheaney also said her office “cannot place confidence” in the accuracy of data on prisoner complaints provided by the IPS.
“It is extremely concerning that legal obligations in relation to the notification of prisoner complaints, the appointment of investigators and/or provision of interim reports, as required under the prison rules, have not been observed.”
She said there were “serious deficiencies” in the system: “In many instances, the law was not complied with by the [IPS]. The concerns highlighted by the inspectorate in previous reports on prisoner complaints have not been allayed.
“The deficiencies and failure to comply with the law is of the gravest concern and once again the inspectorate calls on [IPS] to address their non-compliance as a matter of extreme urgency.”
In a statement, the IPS said prisoners with mental illness “need the help and support of appropriate clinical staff in an appropriate environment”.
It was committed to the high-level cross-departmental / cross-agency taskforce currently being established.
It said "significant work" has been completed on a new prisoner complaints system and was "confident" the deficiencies highlighted by the inspector will be addressed by it.
It said legislation required to commence the system was being finalised by the Department of Justice.