Icelandic prisons are breaching human rights laws by not providing adequate mental health services, according to the Ministry of Justice. It is thought that up to 75% of prisoners face psychiatric problems, yet only three psychologists provide services to the entire country’s prison system. No psychiatrist has been employed by the prisons since 2013.
Anna Gunnhildur Ólafsdóttir, director of the Icelandic Mental Health Alliance (Geðhjálp), says many prisoners which should be receiving care outside prisons, cannot access it. “This situation is also such that the seriously mentally ill, who should be in a healthcare institution, they cannot access resources there because the healthcare institutions, which are most often hospitals, are not prepared to receive this group.” Anna mentions cases of mentally ill prisoners being placed in isolation because they were not able to live with other prisoners and denied probation due to a lack mental health services for them outside prison.
Geðhjálp has repeatedly pointed out the Icelandic prison system’s failure to provide adequate mental health care, as has the Althing Ombudsman, the Icelandic National Audit Office, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).
Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen said in an interview last night that increased funding for health care will be used in part to improve mental health services for prisoners. Icelandic prisons are at capacity, with 150 currently serving sentences and 530 on the waiting list to do so. In addition, 200 are performing community service and a considerable number are on probation. In total these groups consist of around 1,000 individuals, of which a majority are believed to require mental health care.
“Some sort of task force needs to be formed which needs to work quickly and well, find out what the problems are and what needs to be done and then take on the issue and really roll up their sleeves, because the situation has been terrible for this very vulnerable group,” stated Anna Gunnhildur.