Report On Mental Health & Addiction Challenges Of Persons Coming Into Contact With Criminal Justice Sector Published

  • Multi-agency approach to be taken to rehabilitating and diverting offenders with addiction or mental health challenges away from crime.
  • New facility for the HSE National Forensic Mental Health Service at Portrane to open in mid-November.

The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD and the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD have on Friday last, 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.

Ministers McEntee and Donnelly thanked the independent Chair of the Task Force, Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler TD and the Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan TD for their work on the Taskforce and the final Report.

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 today, Minister Mrs Helen McEntee said: “We know that many of those who end up engaging with our criminal justice system have higher rates of mental health and addiction challenges than the rest of the population. This is not a coincidence. If we are to address the root causes of offending behaviours, we have to start here.

If we are to reduce the numbers who end up in a cycle of offending behaviour and if we are to create stronger and safer communities and reduce crime, we have to work together and deliver properly resourced, appropriately located systems of care. This is not something that one Department or agency can do alone. A collaborative approach has underpinned the work of the Task Force who have agreed a coherent range of ambitious, but realistic, time-lined actions to build and sustain progress.

In combination with the community safety work underway by my Department, which similarly recognises that delivering on stronger and safer communities requires the buy-in and participation of all relevant stakeholders and not just An Garda Síochána, I feel we are making tangible progress towards a more holistic and joined up way of thinking and working to improve quality of life and build stronger safer communities.

I would like to especially thank Kathleen Lynch for her dedicated work on the Taskforce and in producing this report, as well as the committed staff from a number of Departments and agencies”.

The report is the culmination of over a year’s work by the Task Force, chaired by Kathleen Lynch, former Minister of State, and was comprised of staff from both the Department of Justice and the Department of Health, representatives from the HSE, the Central Mental Hospital, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, An Garda Síochána, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Judiciary and the Department of Housing.

The Plan, which accompanies the final report, recognises that the criminal justice sector does not operate in a vacuum, and requires collective will, planning and a strong focus on implementation to deliver a properly resourced, appropriately located, model of care, including Central Mental Hospital step down facilities, for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Speaking on the publication of the report, Minister Mr Stephen 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.’’

Minister Ms Mary Butler, Minister of State at the Department of Health said: “It is recognised internationally that vulnerable people with mental health and addiction challenges are over-represented in our criminal justice systems. We have a responsibility to ensure that as many as possible within this population, are diverted away from the criminal justice system and provided with appropriate health and social care supports.

As we all know, there is no quick fix solution to the challenges highlighted by the Taskforce and no one service can address the change needed on its own. However, the report provides a clear path forward on how we can achieve this and work together to improve supports in the key area of forensic mental health care involving all relevant front-line agencies.

The Taskforce’s recommendations relating to the health sector will be progressed in line with Sláintecare, Sharing the Vision and other relevant health policies. I would like to thank all involved in the development of the report. It is evident that a huge amount of work and dedication went in to producing a platform for real progress over the next five years”.

In the context of the report’s publication proceedings, Ministers Donnelly and Butler are delighted to announce that the new facility for the HSE National Forensic Mental Health Service at Portrane, to replace the existing Central Mental Hospital (CMH) at Dundrum, will open in mid-November. The opening of this facility, which has been long called for by many mental health advocates including the HSE and is a key recommendation of the HLTF report to alleviate existing service pressures for the forensic mental health and judicial sectors.

Minister Mr Frank Feighan, Minister of State at the Department of Health said: “It is important that we divert people possessing drugs for personal use or experiencing mental health issues from the criminal justice system. As part of a health-led approach, we need to treat people with compassion, not to punish them. I believe that the health diversion programme we are implementing for people who are found in possession of drugs for personal use is a template that we can use for people who experience mental health issues. Referring these individuals to the health system for a SAOR screening and brief intervention will benefit the individual. It will also lead to a more effective use of resources in the criminal justice system”.


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