Belfast Telegraph

Most inmates on medication - report

Progress on dealing with mental health issues in jails in Northern Ireland has been slow - with most prisoners at Maghaberry Prison on medication, inspectors have warned.

Some 700 inmates at the Co Antrim jail are receiving treatment, mostly tranquillisers, as the Prison Service struggles to cope with the challenge.

Early screening remains difficult as people enter the justice system and there are no clear rules about where people affected by disorders should be taken when they are detained by police, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland said.

Chief inspector Dr Michael Maguire said: "While there are some examples of excellent practice, progress in the last two years has been slow despite the recognition of the great challenges facing the criminal justice agencies in caring for prisoners with mental health issues."

A total of 700 out of 850 inmates at high-security Maghaberry are on medication, mostly tranquillisers, and about 7% of the whole prison population are thought to be seriously mentally ill.

Up to 16% of those placed in custody suffer from some form of mental ill health and many more have personality disorders. Deficiencies in the treatment of vulnerable prisoners in Northern Ireland have been highlighted by inspectors before.

Mr Maguire said there had been some improvements in the information shared between the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service as well as the information given to the court about people with problems.

"It is not possible to say however whether this had made any difference to the extent to which people have been diverted away from custodial care," he added.

A Department of Justice/Department of Health group has been established to develop a more joined-up approach. Mr Maguire added: "It is early days and to date it has made limited impact on the ground."

Inspectors noted the government's commitment on strengthening cross-departmental working.

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