Mental health - Weighing up release right

IT’S hard to imagine the mixed feelings of relief and apprehension of the person released last week from the Central Mental Hospital on “conditional” discharge whereby patients can be recalled if they breach strict rules.

Up to then, only one other person, who had spent 38 years behind the hospital’s high walls, was “unconditionally” discharged in July 2010 under the Criminal Law Insanity Act 2006. The latest case follows an amendment to the Act, giving the Mental Health Review Board an option to free patients with conditions attached.

Clearly the unconditional form of release militated against patients apparently ready for discharge but not freed because safeguards were not in place. Fewer that half the 100 patients at the under-staffed hospital were found not guilty by reason of insanity and are subject to a review every six months.

Controversy has surrounded this subject. While popular opinion is more liberal today, legitimate fears over public safety must be addressed, especially in high profile cases. But if release is warranted, either on conditional or unconditional grounds, patients should be freed.


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