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Iceland: no prison psychiatrist in five years

There hasn’t been a psychiatrist working in Icelandic prisons for more than five years, despite that fact that prisoners are guaranteed mental health services by law, RÚV reports. Three individuals incarcerated in Icelandic prisons have committed suicide in the last two years, a fact that is being linked by some to the increasing disarray of prison mental health services.

Three suicides in two years

An Icelandic man just over the age of 40 committed suicide at Litla-Hraun prison last Tuesday. According to DV, the man was sentenced last January to 12 months in prison after repeatedly driving under the influence of drugs. According to the court judgement, the man had previously violated traffic, but not criminal, law.

Anna Gunnhildur Ólafsdóttir, the managing director of Geðhjálp, the Icelandic Mental Health Alliance, says that mental health services in Icelandic prisons are in shambles. “There are four psychologists that have to care for over 1,000 prison clients, and it goes without saying that this is, of course, all too few and there’s a several-week wait for a psychological appointment. There’s no psychiatrist working at Litla-Hraun and in light of the fact that 50-75% of prisoners serving time have mental illnesses, this is a completely unacceptable situation.

While Anna Gunnhildur was unable to comment on the particular case of the man who recently committed suicide, she affirmed that treatment for incarcerated individuals who struggle with both mental illness and drug addiction is also lacking.

Shortage of mental health services throughout the country

The Ministry of Justice has commented on the current state of mental health services in Icelandic prisons, saying that the human rights of prisoners in Iceland are not guaranteed in this respect as there is a shortage of mental health services throughout the country overall, not just within prisons.

In a radio interview in December, Páll Winkel, the Director-General of Prison and Probation Administration, said that sometimes, prisoners with mental illnesses do not receive parole because there aren’t any accommodations for them outside of prison. Páll pointed to the cases of two prisoners who had committed the same offense: one, who did not struggle with mental illness, received parole, while the other, who did have psychiatric problems, served his full sentence.

“*At any given time, there are two to three people in prison who should by rights be in a mental health institution,” remarked Anna Gunnhildur, but for one reason or another, the hospital has often not been confident in admitting seriously ill prisoners in spite of the completely clear legal basis in that regard.*“

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