29/03/2012

Progress Slow In Treatment Of Prisoners Mental Health

Progress in the treatment of prisoners with mental health problems has been slow.

While some improvements have been made a report published today by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland shows that many challenges remain.

Entitled, 'Not a Marginal Issue: Mental health and the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland’ the report is a follow-up to an inspection made in March 2010.

Dr Michael Maguire, chief inspector at Criminal Justice Inspection, said: "The 2010 report highlighted a range of deficiencies for those in the system with mental health problems and was published in order that their treatment would improve.

"And 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.

"The early assessment and screening of people with mental health problems remains difficult as they enter into the justice system. There are still no clear rules about where people are to be taken when they are arrested or detained by the police.

"There have been some improvements in the information shared between organisations (particularly the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), as well as the information given to the court about people with mental health issues. 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 that a joint DoJ/DHSSPS Working Group has been established and undertaken some initial work in developing a more joined-up approach. It is early days, and to date it has made limited impact on the ground. However inspectors are pleased to note the recent Programme for Government commitment to strengthen cross-departmental working to improve mental health inequalities.

Dr Maguire said one should not underestimate the scale of the challenge facing the criminal justice system and he outlined some of the stark statistics facing the authorities not just in Northern Ireland but throughout the UK.

(CD/GK)

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