Wednesday, December 23, 2009

People with mental illness overrepresented in Ireland's prison population

From The Irish Examiner:

The mental health services and the criminal justice system are "failing young men with severe mental illnesses," according to research.

The study found that people with psychoses are disproportionately over-represented within the remand prison population. Not only that, but their condition is getting worse while in prison, it finds.

The research – carried out by a team of psychiatrists from the Central Mental Hospital – found that almost 4% of those committed to prison – 372 people – needed to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital.

The report found a particularly very high rate of psychoses among prisoners held on remand, people who are charged and in custody awaiting trial.

In a survey and analysis of 615 males committed to prison, the research found:

* 47% of remand prisoners had a history of contact with community psychiatric services, compared to 33% of people convicted of a crime and sentenced.

* 3.8% of remand prisoners suffered from psychosis, several times higher than sentenced inmates (0.3%)

* Lifetime rates of psychosis among remand prisoners is 9% (6.6% for sentenced committals)

The research, published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, said the rate of psychoses among remand inmates worsened after entry to prison.

“This suggests that those with severe mental illnesses (psychoses) are accumulating on remand, perhaps because they are treated more severely by the criminal justice system, or perhaps because they are more likely to break down in prison.”

It said the rate of psychoses among remand inmates at six-months was “much higher” than in other countries.

The report concluded: “The Irish mental health and criminal justice system are failing young men with severe mental illnesses, who are falling through the net of community mental health provision.”

It said that almost nine out of 10 people with psychoses on remand were charged with non-violent offences.

“Those with psychosis are disproportionately over-represented in the prison remand population compared to the sentenced population. People with psychoses are detained for minor offences that do not ultimately lead to prison sentences, hence the lower prevalence of psychoses in the sentenced prisoner samples.

“This is a serious form of discrimination and required urgent action through better targeting of community mental health services.” It added: “The most pressing need is for diversion services for remand prisoners.”

It said the individuals had a high rate of alcohol and drug problems, which also needed to be targeted.