Up to 70% of prisoners suffer from personality disorders (Irish Times)
Up to 70 per cent of prisoners suffer from personality disorders, about six times the rate in the general population, according to a senior Irish Prison Service psychologist.
Such disorders, which range from the mild to the highly disruptive, were long believed to be untreatable and simply part of offenders’ personalities.
However, according to the prison service’s senior psychologist, Dr Margaret McGovern, several promising treatments are now available to offenders in prison.
Common personality disorders in the prison system include emotionally unstable disorder (sometimes called borderline personality disorder) and dissocial personality disorder (sometimes known as antisocial personality disorder).
One of the better-known forms is psychopathy. However, this has always been a controversial diagnosis and is rarely applied, even in prisons, said Dr McGovern.
“Antisocial/dissocial personality disorder is much more commonly given in forensic settings,” she said.
Personality disorders differ from mental illness in that they are more persistent and, in the past, were seen as more intrinsic to the patient’s personality. Under the Mental Health Act 2001, which is currently under review, people with personality disorders are not considered to have a mental illness in the legal sense and cannot be involuntary detained in a secure institution such as the Central Mental Hospital.
Furthermore, a personality disorder diagnosis cannot be used as an insanity defence in a criminal trial. Personality disorders are “enduring behaviour patterns”, Dr McGovern said.
“What we find is that [sufferers] have inflexible responses to a wide range of personal and social situations.
“These behaviours can represent very extreme or significant deviations from the way the average individual would act.”