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Hólmsheiði prison Iceland

Improved Mental Health Services for Prisoners

A specialised, interdisciplinary mental health team has been established to provide prisoners across the country will mental health services. Icelandic Health Insurance and the Capital Area Health Clinics (Heilsugæsla höfuðborgarsvæðisins) co-signed an agreement on the matter today at Hólmsheiði prison. The initiative is a drastic change, as Icelandic prisons have been without a psychiatrist for over five years.

The Prisoners’ Mental Health Team will be staffed by psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses, and other professionals in the field. The team will work from the capital area but will be mobile, also utilising technology to provide remote services in all of the country’s prisons. The government earmarked ISK 55 million ($450,000/€409,000) for mental health services in prisons this year, and has decided to increase that funding to ISK 70 million ($577,000/€520,000) next year.

Director of the Icelandic Prison Service Paul Winkel expressed his satisfaction that the Ministries of Justice, Health, and Social Affairs had started working together to make progress in prisoners’ services. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated that the effort aims to “bring this service to a point that is not only acceptable, but that we can be proud of.”

Last summer, the Council of Europe’s CPT (more fully the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) visited Icelandic prisons and released a report on their conditions which found mental health services to be lacking.

Anna Gunnhildur Ólafsdóttir, managing director of the Icelandic Mental Health Alliance, has stated that the proportion of prisoners that have mental illnesses is between 50-75%. There has not been a psychiatrist working in Icelandic prisons for over five years, where a staff of four psychologists has been responsible for over 1,000 clients.

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