Adjournment Debate. - Prisoner Accommodation.

Dr. Upton

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, for coming into the House to reply to this matter. To ensure the Minister of State will give as full a reply as possible, I assure him I have been asked to take up this matter at the highest level. It is of grave concern to the family of the woman concerned and I want to ensure all appropriate action will be taken to deal with it.

For months I have been working with this woman's family in an attempt to ensure that whatever can be done is done by way of producing appropriate care for her. It seems beyond doubt that the State has failed in its responsibility of care. I am informed this woman has been suffering from a serious psychiatric condition. The State agencies were unable to deal with her psychiatric disorder at a medical level or through the various types of social supports they administer and control. Ultimately the problem was allowed to come to a crisis point which resulted in this woman being jailed for trespassing with intent to steal on 23 February this year.

The full dimensions of the State's failure to deal effectively with her difficulties are illustrated starkly by what happened following her committal to Mountjoy. When committed there on 23 February and on some subsequent date it was necessary to hold her in a padded cell for her safety. It seems outrageous that was the best the State could do to cope with a citizen who is suffering from a serious psychiatric problem. Subsequent to her detention in a padded cell in Mountjoy she was transferred to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. I have been advised by her family that it now appears likely she will be released from Dundrum and returned to Mountjoy. The family are deeply concerned that subsequent to her return to Mountjoy she will, as happens in the case of most prisoners who are released, be returned to the community without the necessary social and medical supports.

I appeal to the Minister of State to contact the agencies which deal with people, like this woman, who have a multiplicity of problems. I ask him to ensure that this woman will receive the necessary housing, medical and other social supports as her former residence was burned out and it is now impossible for her to return to it. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure she will be housed in circumstances appropriate to the condition of someone who has a multiplicity of problems, including underlying psychiatric disorders. It is essential all necessary action is taken to prevent the vicious cycle of social problems, psychiatric difficulties and ultimately a prison sentence from recurring.

I thank Deputy Upton for raising this matter on the Adjournment. As he will be aware, the provision of services at the Central Mental Hospital is a matter for the Eastern Health Board in the first instance. I understand the board has six beds in the Central Mental Hospital dedicated to female prison transfers. Until the last six to 12 months those beds satisfied the needs arising most of the time. However, there were occasions during this period when the Central Mental Hospital has not had the capacity to meet the needs of Mountjoy Prison. Additional accommodation has been provided by the board of the hospital to cater for the increased demand and the board expects this will ease the situation. The person to whom the Deputy referred was transferred from Mountjoy Prison to the Central Mental Hospital on Wednesday, 23 March 1998 and I understand from the board there are no plans to transfer this person at present.

I advise the Deputy that my Department is currently in discussion with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Eastern Health Board with the aim of improving the level of psychiatric services provided to the prison population. Arising from those discussions measures are currently being taken to enhance the consultant forensic psychiatrist input into Mountjoy prison.