This week two new damning reports on Irish prisons were published: one by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT) and one by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan. Both outlining serious human rights concerns within the prison system of this country. While the focus of the Ombudsman for Children’s report is on St Patrick’s Institution (which houses male offenders aged between 16 and 21), the Report of the CPT covers all places of detention in Ireland including prisons, garda stations and psychiatric institutions.
The CPT Report is based on a visit to Ireland carried out by members of the Committee between 25th January and 5th February 2010 and it contains details of appalling human rights issues in Irish prisons, including matters relating to prisoner healthcare, prisoner protection, and the investigation of complaints against staff. The Committee visited a number of psychiatric institutions, a number of garda stations in Dublin and Cork and a number of prisons around the country including Mountjoy, Portlaoise, Limerick (female section), Cork, Midlands, and St Patrick’s Institution.
In relation to garda detention, the CPT noted that the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 allows for ex parte, in camera detention extension hearings whereby a judge determining if a suspect should be held in garda custody for a further period of detention can direct that, in the public interest, particular evidence at the hearing be given in the absence of every person (including the suspect and his/her legal representative), except the garda giving the evidence and a clerk or registrar of the Court. The CPT expressed its concern about this situation, stating that in order to prevent ill-treatment of suspects, persons detained by the police must be physically brought before a judge tasked with examining a request for extension of their detention. The CPT requested confirmation from the Irish government that all persons detained by the gardaí are physically brought before a judge considering an extension of detention. The government’s response states that all legislation allowing for extended detention requires that, at a certain point, a detained person is physically brought before the court for a determination on further detention. This, of course, does not alter the fact that such a detainee, and his/her legal representative, can be excluded from the discussions surrounding his continued detention.
In relation to the prisons visited by the CPT, the following observations, among others, were made in the Report:
- Cork: The CPT found plastic bags being used as toilets, unacceptable dirty segregation cells and inadequate visiting facilities. Prisoners reported only being able to access one shower and change of underwear each week. The government’s response to these criticisms referred to the proposed new prison at Kilworth, but the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) notes that plans for the development of this facility are now suspended indefinitely.
- Limerick female prison: The CPT found women having to sleep two to a bed because of chronic overcrowding. They also found blocked showers and flooding in cells.
- Mountjoy prison: The persistent problem of overcrowding in chronic conditions at Mountjoy was reinforced by the CPT, who found the prison in an overall poor state of repair.
- St. Patrick’s Institution: The CPT was concerned at the length of time prisoners were spending in their cells and the high number of prisoners not engaged in any meaningful activity.
The CPT also highlighted the following serious concerns:
- Complaints: In relation to allegations of mistreatment of prisoners by staff, the CPT report points to inadequate investigation of complaints, poor recording of alleged incidents, and inadequate or no medical examination of prisoners who make complaints. In this regard, the CPT states that “[e]ffective complaints and inspection procedures are basic safeguards against ill-treatment in prisons” and it considers that ”[p]risoners should have avenues of complaint open to them, both within and outside the prison system, and be entitled to confidential access to an appropriate authority.”
- Prison health care: The CPT found inadequate provision of prison healthcare, recording that in some prisons doctors were not fulfilling contracted hours, even where these hours were already wholly inadequate. Serious concerns were also expressed about prescribing methadone at Cork, Midlands, Mountjoy. Some particularly worrying incidents were reported in relation to inadequate treatment of a HIV positive prisoner; of a prisoner being chained to staff during medical treatment in the Midlands; and of a prisoner being forced to undergo withdrawal from heroin while subjected to slopping out in Cork. Overall the keeping of medical records was found to be inadequate, with prisoners not receiving medical examination on admission at Cork or Mountjoy, which has serious implications for investigating any allegations of mistreatment.
- Risk Assessment: Across the prison system, the Committee found no basic admission or induction policy in place (except at Midlands prison) including no cell-share risk assessment procedure, which, the IPRT notes, is particularly worrying given serious incidents, including homicide, in shared cells in recent years.
- Slopping out: The CPT noted that nearly one quarter of the Irish prison population has to “slop out” on a daily basis. It found that prisoners were often not allowed out of cells at night when they requested access to toilets and prisoners reported being subjected to verbal abuse when they asked for access to toilets. The Report states that
The CPT calls upon the Irish authorities to eradicate “slopping out” from the prison system. Until such time as all cells possess in-cell sanitation, concerted action should be taken to minimise the degrading effects of slopping out; the authorities should ensure that prisoners who need to use a toilet facility are released from their cells without undue delay at all times (including at night), and the implementation of this measure should be monitored by senior management.
- Psychiatric care in prisons: The CPT found prison mental health care to be inadequate, particularly in Cork where there was poor record keeping, over-reliance on medication and dirty observation cells.
- Protection and punishment: The CPT’s report contains a shocking description of the high numbers on 23-hour lock up for protection, including high numbers in St. Patrick’s Institution. The CPT also found improper use of special observation cells for discipline, including an incident where a disciplinary hearing took place in a special observation cell while prisoner in underpants. It found routine use of de facto solitary confinement being imposed for up to 60 days, which, the IPRT notes, is illegal under the Prisons Act 2007.
- Racism: Concerns raised in this CPT report which had not appeared in previous reports include accounts of allegations of racism against Travellers and foreign prisoners by staff and other prisoners.
In relation to future plans for the construction of a prison at Thornton Hall, the CPT made a general statement about the construction and operation of large prison facilities. It stated that
The CPT also wishes to place on record that it has serious misgivings about the construction of very large prison complexes, which have historically proven difficult to manage and unable to deliver the targeted services required of the various population groups within them.
In response, the Irish government stated that while the design of Thornton Hall is not yet finalised,
The new prison at Thornton Hall will not be a single large prison (super prison), but rather a campus style development that will allow for appropriate separation of prisoners and will be regime focussed.
News coverage of the CPT report is available here, here and here. The IPRT press release is available here. The CPT Report itself is available here, and the response of the Irish government is available here.
The Report of the Ombudsman for Children, entitled “Young People in St. Patrick’s Institution“, is based on extensive consultations between the Ombudsman for Children and the young people imprisoned in St. Pat’s, and includes responses and commitments to action from the Irish Prison Service.
The report recognises certain positive work being carried out at the prison, with particular emphasis on school facilities and positive relationships between the staff and young people, however, it also raises a number of concerning issues, including, amongst other things:
- The failure to adequately communicate with the children on arrival about prison rules, rights or entitlements;
- The supposed separation of children (aged 16 and 17) from adult prisoners is not achieved in practice - young people on protection or on special medical observation are often held in the same areas of the prison as adults;
- Physical conditions, food, and access to showers are unacceptable;
- and, reports that the children are not disclosing mental health problems out of fear of being put in special observation cells.
Of course, young people are not supposed to be detained in prisons, but rather in Children Detention Schools, under the Children Act 2001, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006. But the transitional arrangements for boys aged 16 and 17 to be held at St Pat’s continue in existence until an appropriate Detention School is made available for them. Despite the conclusion of an Expert Group Report on Children Detention Schools in 2006, no facility for 16 and 17 year old boys has been established as yet.
The Report of the Ombudsman for Children is available here. A related Press Release issued jointly by the IPRT, Barnados, Children’s Rights Alliance and other interested parties is available here and media reports on the issue are available here, here and here.