A woman who has been imprisoned in connection with serious mental health difficulties is being confined to a cell on her own and is “really struggling because she likes to be around people”.
Kay Barrett is in Limerick prison serving a sentence for breaking a safety order but her family insists that her troubles are entirely related to her mental health illness and that she should be admitted to an appropriate healthcare setting. Ms Barrett, from Donaghmore, Co Cork, was taken to prison in June following the activation of a suspended sentence for breaking the terms of the safety order. The judge who heard the case, James McNulty, accepted that she was in a distressed state.
“Kay Barrett is clearly in turmoil and her mental state is clearly deteriorating,” he told the court.
Now Kay’s sister Clair and her aunt Carmel Nestor are pleading for intervention in order that she could get the treatment she needs.
“She has been in (prison) three times now and every time it’s related to illness, not her bad behaviour,” Ms Nestor told the Mick Clifford podcast.
“Each time she’s been in there we don’t expect her to come out better than when she went in”.
The family initially sought the safety order on advice because Kay’s condition meant her behaviour could be erratic, including calling the gardaí to her home on numerous occasions. Clair says they were left with the impression that the health services might be forced to provide some form on treatment as a result of the order or that Kay’s behaviour might be modified.
“It was a minor offence, she couldn’t regulate she would be on the street singing songs and effing and blinding,” Clair Barrett says.
“There was another incident in the Mercy Hospital where she was shouting and roaring and looking for help. She was calling the guards incessantly and we all didn’t know what to do.”
Kay Barrett’s family are particularly concerned about the conditions Kay is enduring in the women’s prison in Limerick where she is being held.
“She’s very claustrophobic,” Clair Barrett told the Podcast.
“She’s in a cell on her own and she loves being around people. She’s really, really struggling. It’s not a good place for her to recover.” Carmel Nestor says that the restrictions on phone calls, which are part of the prison regime, is particularly impacting on somebody with Kay’s condition.
“IF we want to phone Kay we can’t or if she doesn’t feel well at a particular time she can’t phone us. She needs most reassuring in the evening time but it’s impossible to call her then.”
The incarceration in prisons of people with mental health difficulties in Ireland has been the subject of a succession of reports and criticisms from the UN committee on torture and degrading treatment.