Calls for Better Mental Healthcare After Inmate Found Dead Skip to content

Calls for Better Mental Healthcare After Inmate Found Dead

By Yelena

Litla-Hraun Prison in South Iceland
Photo: Golli. Litla-Hraun Prison in South Iceland.

An inmate at Litla-Hraun Prison was found dead in his cell yesterday morning, RÚV reports. There is no suspicion of foul play. Prisoner advocacy group Afstaða criticised the Icelandic government for not ensuring adequate mental health services for inmates in the country’s prisons.

Director General of the Prison and Probation Administration Páll Winkel stated that the South Iceland Police is investigating the death.

Mental health services lacking

In a statement published on Facebook, Afstaða, an Icelandic organisation that advocates for prisoners’ rights, called on “the government to wake up from its slumber and do something about prison issues, not least with regard to the mental health of people who are deprived of their freedom.”

Lack of mental healthcare for inmates has been a persistent problem in the Icelandic prison system for years. In 2018, there were only three psychologists and no psychiatrist serving some 1,000 people in the system, 75% of whom were believed to require mental health services. Between 2017-2019, two prisoners committed suicide, and their deaths were linked to the disarray in mental health services.

In December 2019, a specialised, interdisciplinary mental health team was established to provide prisoners across the country with mental health services, but more recent reports from international supervisory bodies point to continual issues.

Aging facilities

Litla-Hraun is one of Iceland’s two closed prisons. Its first building was completed in 1929 and was meant to be a hospital but was never used as such. In the ensuing decades, more buildings were added to the prison, but never with a holistic design strategy. A November 2023 Icelandic National Audit Office report stated that the prison does not fulfil modern safety requirements.

Litla-Hraun is set to be replaced by a brand-new facility in 2028. In an interview in February 2024, Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, chair of the Parliament’s Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, stated that authorities cannot simply wait for the new facilities to improve conditions in Icelandic prisons. Þórunn stated that it was necessary to improve existing facilities and improve the prisoners’ environment so that it supports their rehabilitation.

Read more about prisons in Iceland.

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