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More than one quarter of Maghaberry inmates have ‘severe mental health issues'

All health services at Maghaberry are provided by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
Andrew Madden

MORE than a quarter of inmates in Maghaberry prison are deemed to be suffering from ‘severe mental health issues’.

In response to an assembly question to the justice minister Claire Sugden, it was revealed that 250 of the 860 prisoners currently held at the high security facility are classified as such.

Mental health issues in the prison have been brought to the fore in recent months, following an extremely critical review into a 2014 incident in which an inmate blinded himself in a serious self-harm incident.

The Ombudsman’s report into the Sean Lynch case was last month just weeks after they reached similarly negative conclusions in the case of Patrick Kelly, an inmate who died in Maghaberry following an overdose of prescription medication in 2015.

Under current rules, vulnerable inmates are subject to Support Prisoner At Risk (SPAR) procedures aimed at minimising risk, however many have branded the scheme as ineffectual.

Ulster Unionist MLA Lord Morrow has called for a complete overhaul of the current system.

"I am on record as expressing long-standing concerns over the mental health of prisoners," he said.

"I was aggrieved and somewhat shocked to learn in a recent answer that when a SPAR is opened on a person, it does not automatically trigger a mental health referral or assessment.

"I find this incredulous. What is the point of a process which is supposed to support a prisoner displaying symptoms amounting to vulnerability, if in the very first instance a referral for urgent assessment is not mandatory?"

People Before Profit MLA Eamonn McCann said that the figures were "extremely worrying".

"Something has gone seriously wrong," he said.

"How many of these 250 prisoners have got a program, treatment and counselling so forth?

"I strongly suspect that we simply don’t have an adequate and comprehensive mental health service in our prisons."

In a statement, health minister Michelle O’Neill recognised that the issue requires action.

"There is a clear need to tackle the well-established links between mental ill-health, addictions, substance misuse and criminal justice.

"These are serious issues, and I intend to work closely with the Justice Minister on early intervention and prevention measures, and for those who are sent to prison, quality care and treatment."

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