World Mental Health Day: Ombudsman recalls need for urgent improvements in Education Centers

Following visits to the country’s Educational Centers (EC), the Ombudsman, acting as head of the National Prevention Mechanism (NPM), made a recommendation in February 2019 to the Directorate General for Reinsertion and Prison Services (DGRSP) to overcome several identified shortcomings.

The recommendation of the Ombudsman, Maria Lúcia Amaral, urged the DGRSP to install, in articulation with the health authorities, still this year, a therapeutic unit for the treatment of acute cases diagnosed in the mental health panorama.

Unfortunately, the NPM notes that the mental health context in EC has little changed. In the visits made in September 2019, it was mentioned to the MNP that a large majority of the young people present at the visited Educational Centers had special needs that, in the most serious cases, would require “another type of framing”, namely in therapeutic terms. There is still a lack of performance in young people with mental health problems and embarrassment as a result of the small number of specialized medical staff, particularly in the field of pediatric psychiatry.

Coinciding with the World Mental Health Day, which is marked today, the need for intervention in this area should be reinforced, and the NPM will follow, by the end of 2020, the promised creation of a specific residential unit for intervention with young people with mental health special needs, which had already been proposed in 2015-2016.

Regarding the other suggestions included in the February Recommendation to the DGRSP, namely the revision of the times of making and receiving telephone calls from young people abroad, the NPM welcomes the decisions of the Directorate of Juvenile Justice Services (DSJJ) and Director-General of the DGRSP, who was even available to go “beyond” what was suggested.

The Educational Centers are designed to receive young people between the ages of 12 and 16 who have committed acts qualified as a crime. The current network of educational centers is made up of six units: three in Lisbon, one in Porto, one in Vila do Conde and one in Coimbra.

Mental health, particularly when associated with the reality of young people in detention space, is an area that has deserved special attention from NPM for its relevance and impact on the individual well-being of young learners deprived of their liberty.

Set up in 2013, the NPM is an independent body operating within the Ombudsman’s office that conducts unannounced visits to places of detention to prevent torture, ill-treatment or other abuse.

The NPM has the power to make recommendations to the competent authorities to improve detected deficiencies or to remedy situations that are not compatible with the international obligations assumed by the Portuguese State.