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Wicklow Minister Stephen Donnelly Publishes Findings Of Mental Health Taskforce.

The Taskforce was established in 2021 to meet Government commitments.

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, and the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, have today published the report and recommendations of the High Level Taskforce established to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of people who come into contact with the criminal justice sector.

The Taskforce was established in 2021 to meet the Government’s commitment to ensure the critical mental health needs of people in prison are met, addiction treatments are provided and appropriate primary care supports are available on release, in order to ensure improved outcomes for the individuals concerned and for society as a whole.

It is now widely recognised that the needs of many people who interact with the criminal justice system are complex, and are often influenced by mental health and addiction challenges. Providing proper care to these and ensuring rehabilitation, both in terms of health needs but also in order to prevent future reoffending and contact with the criminal justice system, means these issues cannot be addressed in isolation or by the criminal justice system alone.  

The Taskforce had three subgroups focused on three key elements to holistically meet these needs going forward;

1.      One subgroup, on Diversion, chaired by a member of An Garda Síochána, focused on diverting individuals with mental illness who have committed minor offences from progressing into the criminal justice system, in the best interests of both the public and the individual concerned.

2.      A second subgroup, on Irish Prison Service/Central Mental Hospital Capacity, which was chaired by an Irish Prison Service Director, examined the existing and future needs of individuals within the custodial criminal justice system. The objective of this group was to ensure that there is adequate provision of services to meet the mental health and dual diagnosis needs of those in prison.

3.      A third subgroup examined community issues and through-care upon release from custody, and was chaired by the Director of the Probation Service. The objective of this group was to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in place and adequate provision of services to prevent individuals from relapsing into damaging behaviours undermining the rehabilitative efforts made by the individual and the State.

Overall, the Taskforce has put forward 61 recommendations which emphasise the shared responsibility of a number of Government Departments and agencies to deliver on meeting the needs of those with mental health and addiction challenges who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Key actions include:

-          Progressive and empathetic approach by Gardaí to dealing with offenders with mental health and addiction challenges, informed by mental health and addiction awareness training for Gardaí

-          Efficient and effective means of implementing a prosecution avoidance policy when Garda members come in contact with adults with mental illness and addiction, through the adult caution scheme

-          The establishment of a pilot specialist dual diagnosis service to support prisoners with a mental health condition and substance misuse in a prison, to inform roll-out across the entire prison estate

-          Access to tiered mental health supports that are recovery oriented for every person with mental health difficulties coming into contact with the forensic system

-          Reducing attrition by maintaining engagement and motivation at the point of release, including through the use of community agreed discharge plans for prisoners (identifying multi-agency supports required).

Speaking on the publication of the report, Minister Donnelly said:

’’I am particularly pleased that our Programme for Government commitment to produce this important HLTF report has materialised. It is thanks to the commitment of every member that such a timely and thorough report has been developed. This is a realistic and grounded report, which presents achievable recommendations in the short, medium, and long term. It has the potential to realise lasting positive changes in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. The Government is committed to building on the work of the Taskforce, particularly around improving co-operation on all fronts in the future, as envisaged under Sláintecare.’’

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