Belfast Telegraph

Prisoners' mental health discussed

Widespread mental health problems experienced by prisoners across Ireland are set to be explored at a cross-border seminar today.

With more than two thirds of inmates having either a form of psychosis, a personality disorder or a substance misuse problem, the event in Hillsborough Castle will assess progress on tackling the health issues prevalent within the criminal justice system.

Stormont Justice Minister David Ford and his counterpart in the Dublin government Alan Shatter will open what is the fourth annual Cross-Border Public Protection Seminar.

The event brings together representatives from probation services, police, prison and the justice departments from north and south to consider developments and share best practice in preventing offending and keeping communities safer.

The Northern Ireland Probation Board's head of psychology and interventions Geraldine O'Hare is set to address the seminar on progress made to date in the area of offenders' mental health issues.

Ahead of the event, Mr Ford said: "There is great value in bringing criminal justice professionals from north and south together each year to share experience, good practice, knowledge and ideas - in this very important field of public protection.

"In May this year, I launched the Strategic Framework for Reducing Offending which sets out an over-arching approach to reducing offending, building a safer society and ensuring fewer people become victims of crime.

"This seminar will provide an excellent opportunity to set out what we are doing through that Framework in Northern Ireland and hear from colleagues in the south. This year, there will also be a particular emphasis on desistance - the process through which people cease and refrain from offending.

"This is a complex and challenging issue and I am interested to hear the discussion that will unfold."

Minister Shatter said co-operation and communication between agencies was an "essential ingredient" in the criminal justice system's ability to tackle offending behaviour.

"For young offenders in particular, influencing a change in their criminal behaviour is best done by interventions containing flexible, supportive and rehabilitative provisions within the context of a co-ordinated youth justice system," he said.

Minister Shatter also commented specifically on the issue of victims.

"While acknowledging the legitimate efforts to rehabilitate offenders, victim concerns must also be addressed," he said.

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