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Written Answers. - Prison Medical Service.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 16. Mr. O'Shea Information on Brian O'Shea Zoom on Brian O'Shea  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the steps he intends to take to ensure the proper provision of treatment for offenders with mental health problems, having regard to the recent findings of a report commissioned by the Irish Prisons Service showing that a very high level of prisoners suffer from an intellectual disability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18504/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell It is important to distinguish between mental health problems, which include a range of problems such as psychiatric illnesses and personality disorders, and intellectual/learning disability. The specific report referred to in this question relates to learning disability and not mental health problems. The report, a copy of which I am arranging to have placed in the Oireachtas Library, is the subject of a separate Question, Ref. No. 18611/02, on today's Order Paper.

As regards services for prisoners with mental health problems, prisoners have access to a range of health care services, including mental health services. Mental health services are provided either in prison or, if considered clinically appropriate, in the Central Mental Hospital. In view of concerns outlined to my predecessor that the provision of adequate facilities was becoming increasingly problematic, an expert group was established in 1999 to review these issues and make recommendations.

Arising from the publication of the report of the group to review the structure and organisation of prison health care services in 2001, a working group was established involving representation by my Department, the Department of Health and Children, relevant health boards, and the Irish Prisons Service. This working group is currently exploring means of implementing the core recommendations of this report, including those referring to treatment structures relating to offenders with mental health problems. In particular, it is my intention that health care facilities [1132] for prisoners should broadly mirror public health facilities provided in the general community. The implementation of appropriate structures will, of course, require the active co-operation of a range of agencies .

The Irish Prisons Service is currently facilitating a research project being undertaken by a team based at the Central Mental Hospital which is examining the prevalence of mental illness among the prison population. While well advanced there are no definitive results of this research yet available. While this study is not specifically considering the issue of learning disability, contact with the research team has not indicated any particular concern in relation to the general intellectual capacity of those examined.

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