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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Louise Burne

Over 800 prisoners left waiting for addiction services in Irish prisons

Over 800 prisoners were on waiting lists for addiction services at the end of last year, new figures show.

As Justice Minister Helen McEntee confirmed that prisoners wait an average of 12 weeks to access services, Sinn Féin’s spokesman for mental health Mark Ward warned that people who do not get proper care are more likely to reoffend when they leave prison.

Minister McEntee confirmed that when a person committed to prison gives a history of opiate use and tests positive for opioids, they are offered a medically assisted, symptomatic detoxification if clinically indicated.

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In addition to this, it also engages with Merchants Quay Ireland to offer services to other prisoners.

“The Irish Prison Service engages Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) to provide a prison-based addiction counselling service across the Irish Prison Service estate,” she explained.

“The addiction counselling service includes structured assessments and evidence-based counselling interventions, with clearly-defined treatment plans and goals.”

Prisoners who are in most need of treatment are prioritised, she explained.

In larger prisons, the average waiting period can be up to twelve weeks.

Figures provided by Ms McEntee confirmed that at the end of 2022, there were 825 people on waiting lists.

The longest list was in Wheatfield Prison, where 181 prisoners were awaiting help. This was followed by Mountjoy, where 176 people were on waiting lists.

There were 103 people awaiting treatment in both Cork Prison and Midlands Prison.

In the women’s-only prison Dochas, some 32 people were on a waiting list for addiction services at the end of last year.

Deputy Ward, who has worked as an addiction counsellor, said that if people do not get sufficient treatment in prison, they are more likely to reoffend when they leave.

“I should be shocked by the figures, but I’m not shocked. People in prison aren’t getting the appropriate services where they need them,” he said.

“I took part in [the RTÉ documentary] Gaelic in the Joy and I was talking to the Governor [of Mountjoy Prision] when I was in there. The vast majority of prisoners are going in with some sort of addiction or mental health issue, or sometimes both.

“If they’re not getting the care they need when they’re in prison, they’re more likely to offend when they leave.

“People need addiction services as quickly as they can get them. If someone goes into prison with an addiction issue, they should be able to access that care straight away.

“You might only have a short amount of time where you can work with that individual where they can make systemic changes in their lives that will help them not re-offend.”

Additional figures provided to Mr Ward also show that in 2022, 2,259 people were referred to the Irish Prison Service Psychology Service, with some prisoners waiting over two years for an appointment with a psychologist.


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