THE new head of a taskforce set up to tackle mental health and addiction issues of prisoners says the group will “ensure that people who find themselves in the care of the State through the criminal justice system will get the services they deserve”.
Former Cork North Central Labour TD Kathleen Lynch, who retired from politics after the 2016 election, was announced as the head of the new taskforce last week.
The former Minister for Mental Health and Disabilities will lead the high-level taskforce to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of people interacting with the criminal justice system, which will report back to the government by the end of this year.
The taskforce is cross-governmental and takes in areas including health, justice, education, and social protection. The issue of homelessness will also be incorporated.
Ms Lynch said that the fact that such a taskforce has been put in place is proof of recognition by the government that such a focus is necessary.
She added: “The implementation of the plan and a timeframe for that will be the next issue then.
"I would hate to think that people would have put so much time and effort into the areas that the government considers to be necessary and that then it would not be put into action.”
She believes there are already some steps being made to address mental health issues of prisoners. “When I was responsible for mental health, there was a reach-in service from the Central Mental Hospital in place in prisons.”
While acknowledging that it required more resources, Ms Lynch said it was a positive step that it was in existence. She also highlighted that meditation is now being made available in prisons to help inmates with mental health issues, which she sees as another positive measure. She said the issue of addiction combined with mental health is a big one that needs to be addressed.
“We have to ensure that people who are convicted by the courts and have an addiction must be dealt with in a holistic approach.”