We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.
On Monday 19th May the Irish Penal Reform Trust launched “Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A Qualitative Study”.
In 2011 the UNCAT had expressed concern at the reports of allegations of intimidation of Traveller prisoners especially in Cork prison and over more recent years IPRT had become increasingly aware that very little has been documented about the experiences of Travellers in the Irish Prison system. Evidence that emerged from our nearest neighbours gave cause for concern, revealing a range of issues that disproportionately affected Travellers in prison including racist abuse, discrimination, literacy problems, high rates of suicide, substance misuse and the particular challenges that separation from family can bring to members of the Travelling community. As one of the key objectives for IPRT is to achieve measurable improvements in meeting the needs of identified groups of vulnerable prisoners we strongly felt that this was an area that needed to be specifically addressed. This is the first time that research has been carried out on the experience of Travellers in the Irish prison system and is long overdue. Continue reading “Travellers in the Irish Prison System: A Qualitative Study”
The Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice and Equality on Thursday of last week, July 28 2011. The Group was established by the Minister, Alan Shatter T.D., in early April 2011 with specific terms of reference which, basically, provided for a review of the need for new prison accommodation in the jurisdiction and consideration of the future of the Thornton Hall prison project. The Review Group’s report is interesting from a number of perspectives. The recommendations relating directly to the future of the Thornton Hall prison project are more than noteworthy; observations and recommendations made regarding other aspects of the prison system and the state of the prison estate in Ireland at present are intriguing; and statistics provided on the levels of imprisonment, the use of temporary release and the pervasive problem of over-crowding are fascinating. Continue reading “"[C]onditions in some of our prisons may expose the State to significant reputational, legal and financial risk": Thornton Hall Review Group Report”
On Thurs 21st July, the Irish Penal Reform Trust will hold a seminar, Prison Conditions as a Constitutional Issue: Recent Experiences from the US and Ireland. The seminar will explore potential implications of two recent court judgments in which the constitutional rights of prisoners were found to have been infringed by unacceptable prison conditions. Michael O’Higgins SC will speak on the High Court decision in Kinsella -v- Governor of Mountjoy Prison which found the detention of a man in a padded cell in Mountjoy Prison for 11 days to have violated his constitutional rights; Don Specter, Director and Sara Norman, Managing Attorney of the Prison Law Office, San Quentin, will speak on the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overcrowding in California’s prisons results in cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (This presentation will be broadcast on screen.) The event takes place on Thurs 21 July, 2011 from 5-7pm in the Distillery Building on Church Street, Dublin 7, and the seminar qualifies for CPD points (1.5 hours). It is preceded by IPRT’s Annual General Meeting, which begins 3.30pm. Full details available here.
On Tuesday 10th of May the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) will run an event entitled “Breaking the Record: Spent Convictions & Discrimination” in Pearse Street Library from 5 – 6:30 pm. Bobby Cummines the Chief Executive of UNLOCK – the National Association of Reformed Offenders in the United Kingdom will give a presentation and a panel will respond from an Irish perspective. The Irish Penal Reform Trust are particularly interested in hearing from people who have experienced barriers as a result of having a criminal conviction and encourages people to attend and share their experiences.
According to IPRT Ireland is the only country in the EU, and one of a small number of member states of the Council of Europe that does not have legislation providing for the expungement of criminal records (for certain minor offences after remaining conviction-free for a specified period of time). The Law Reform Commission published a Report on Spent Convictions in 2007 that made recommendations for the introduction of a statutory spent convictions scheme. That work recognised that a criminal record can be a significant barrier to many areas of life including employment and education and has implications in many other arenas such as insurance, travel and banking. The Spent Convictions Group (Human Rights Committee of the Law Society, in conjunction with Ballymun Community Law Centre, Ballymun Local Drugs Task Force, Business in the Community, Northside Community Law Centre and Northside Partnership) also published a Report in 2009 entitled “Disclosure of Criminal Convictions: Proposals for a Rehabilitation of Offenders Scheme”.
This body of work in conjunction with campaigning from the IPRT culminated in the Spent Convictions Bill, which was introduced into the Dáil in 2007. Although the Bill meet with mainly positive cross-party support little legislative progress has been achieved. The new Government has given a commitment to publishing a Bill on this area before July 2011, which has been welcomed by IPRT. This forum is timely and provides an excellent opportunity for interested persons and organisations to engage in the law reform process. The event is free to attend, however, there is limited availability as such early registration is advised. See here.
In a move which shows that our political parties are not always as opposed to ideas put forward by one another as one might think, the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, yesterday published the Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No.2) Bill 2011 which is almost identical to the lapsed Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No.2) Bill 2011 published by then Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, on January 12 2011. This Bill seeks to increase the usage of community service orders in place of short-term custodial sentences, a move which has long been advocated by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and is included in the Programme for Government agreed between the two government parties (Fine Gael and Labour).
One significant distinction between this Bill and its January predecessor, however, is that the No.2 Bill requires a court to consider the imposition of a community service order where it would otherwise be of the opinion that a custodial sentence of anything up to 12 months would be appropriate in respect of the relevant offence, whereas the January Bill required such consideration only in relation to situations otherwise leading to imprisonment for up to 6 months. Continue reading “Community Service Orders as alternative to Imprisonment”
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has drawn attention, by way of a press release, to certain legislative issues which are now in limbo given the dissolution of the 30th Dáil and in need of urgent attention on the establishment of the 31st Dáil. In particular, the IPRT has highlighted that while the Fines Act 2010 was signed into law by President Mary McAleese on 2 June 2010 a number of its most important sections have not been formally commenced. Chief among those is section 15 of the Fines Act 2010 which allows for persons owing court-ordered fines to pay them by instalment over a period of 1 year (or 2 years in certain circumstances). While section 14 of the Act, which insists that the courts take into account the individual’s personal financial circumstances when determining the amount of the relevant fine, if any, to be imposed, has been commenced, the IPRT claims that the failure to ensure full implementation of the Act is contributing to “soaring numbers” of persons continuing to be imprisoned for failure to pay fines. Continue reading “Falling Between Two Governments”
Several weeks ago, I noted that a new zero-tolerance regime in relation to drugs was being implemented in Mountjoy Prison. Figures have now been released which show the extent of the drugs problem, not only in Mountjoy, but in the Irish prison system generally.
The Irish Times reports that since the beginning of last year, illegal drugs have been seized in Mountjoy Prison 1,074 times, while the total number of seizures in all of the other 13 prisons in the State amounts to 1,398. This means that drug seizures at Mountjoy equate to 45% of all such seizures in the State’s prisons.
It is suggested that the increase in drugs seizures at prisons is due to an increased level of anti-drug action on the part of prisons since the introduction of an intensified searching regime, known as Operation Support Group, in May 2008. Continue reading “Drug Seizures in Irish Prisons – Numbers Released”
Friday September 24th 2010 is Culture Night when 20 cities, towns, counties and islands around Ireland will offer the general public free access to an array of cultural events and activities. The night celebrates culture in all its forms, including painting, poetry, dance, opera, theatre, history, architecture, traditional music and more.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust is getting in on the cultural act too, and will host “The Auld Triangle Walk” on the night – a walking tour incorporating an eclectic mix of prisons, the changing criminal justice system of Ireland, history, architecture and more.
The walking tour will begin with Mountjoy Prison where experts in the field of prison history and criminology will give a unique insight into crime and punishment in Ireland – past & present! With expert guides, the tour will wind its way through the streets of Old Dublin and go on to explore the Debtors Prison, Green Street Court House, King’s Inns, and the Four Courts, which has stood for over 200 years as a bastion of law in Ireland.
The tour will begin at 6.30pm in the Woodstock Cafe on Phibsboro Road, Dublin 7 and will last approximately 90 minutes. Interested parties should register by emailing the IPRT: email@example.com.
A decision was handed down by the High Court yesterday in the case of Mulligan v Governer of Portlaoise Prison, which, as noted here before, involved a claim for damages from a former prisoner of Portlaoise Prison based on the assertion that the practice of “slopping out” was humiliating, degrading, and in breach of his constitutional and human rights. The High Court decided against Mr Mulligan and considered that, in the particular circumstances of this case, the practice did not amount to a breach of his rights either under the Constitution or under the European Convention on Human Rights.
A Press Release from the Irish Penal Reform Trust notes that a most disappointing element of the judgment is that while the Court found the conditions of sanitation, ventilation and hygiene in this case to be “unacceptable”, they were not considered sufficiently bad to constitute a violation of constitutional rights. In his judgment, MacMenamin J noted that the Irish Prison Service had undertaken to address the issue of “”slopping out” eleven years ago, in 1999, having considered the practice to be unacceptable since the early 1990s, but no real progress has been made on this issue in the older prisons. Continue reading “"Slopping Out" – Unacceptable but not Unconstitutional”