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”
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. Continue reading “Damning New Reports on Detention in Irish Prisons: Ombudsman for Children and CPT”
On October 22nd a number of important reports were published by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in Ireland:
- The Irish Prison Population – an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners
- Report of an Investigation on the use of ‘Special Cells’ in Irish Prisons
- Guidance on Best Practice relating to Prisoners’ Complaints and Prison Discipline
- Inspector of Prisons Annual Report (March 2009 – September 2010)
1. In the report on The Irish Prison Population – an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, Continue reading “Inspector of Prisons Reports Recently Published”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Both the Sunday Tribune and Morning Ireland have recently reported on the changes being made at Mountjoy Prison since the new governor, Ned Whelan, took over on July 1, 2010. Governor Whelan has established a “zero tolerance” policy in relation to drugs, stating that he does not agree with the suggestion that allowing drugs in makes for a quieter prison.
The “zero tolerance” policy is supported by several new measures including: the placing of sophisticated netting (costing €250,000) over one of the prison exercise yards (the other two are to be covered with netting in the next two months); a new requirement that visitors make prior appointments; and the introduction of drug dogs. Not only does the crackdown on drugs serve to assist Governor Whelan, formerly of Portlaoise prison, in his efforts to “try and rehabilitate and protect everyone within the prison”, Continue reading “New Regime begins at Mountjoy Prison”
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”
The ongoing failures within the mental health services were highlighted this week with the publication of the Mental Health Commission’s (MHC) Annual Report for 2009, available here. The failures within the prison service were also evident this week with the forcible removal of a mentally ill, homeless, drug-addicted, woman from the Dóchas Centre in Mountjoy Prison see here. The woman who was four weeks into a six-month sentence was forcibly removed from the prison despite having nowhere to go – and the prison service failing to put any supports in place for her upon her release. The woman was subsequently arrested by Gardaí when she tried to reenter to the prison and produced a scissors. Continue reading “The Ongoing Failures in Mental Health Services”
The recently published Annual Report 2008 of the Inspector of Prisons presents a bleak picture of prisons in Ireland, with overcrowding, the mental health of prisoners and lack of sentence management in particular being highlighted.
The problem of overcrowding was described in the Report as “acute”. This is highly problematic, given that overcrowding stretches staff and monetary resources, compromises the availability of rehabilitative, educational, visiting and medical facilities, and exacerbates tension and violence. For example, in Limerick Prison the number of female prisoners was almost treble the design capacity, a situation described as “inhuman treatment”. Moreover, the situation in Mountjoy was of such gravity that the inspector wrote to the Department and to the Irish Prison Service in Feb 2009 expressing his fear that this practice could “lead to possible serious injury or loss of life.” The Inspector further noted the prevalence of drugs in Irish prisons, and the growing issue of gangs and inter-prisoner violence. Such problems are exacerbated by overcrowding. Furthermore, slopping out continues in Mountjoy, a practice deemed by the Inspector and his predecessor as inhuman and degrading treatment. Indeed, the Court of Session in Scotland in Napier v Scottish Ministers (2004) found that the practice of slopping out in overcrowded conditions breached the applicant’s rights under Articles 3 and 8 of the ECHR, leading to the payment of damages by the Scottish Government. There is no comparable successful case against the Irish State, which would could have expedited the removal of this practice.
In addition, the Report laments the absence of a proper sentence management scheme which would address the aetiology of the crime, programmes to pursue in prison, and other means of preventing recidivism. In this regard the Inspector recommends a sentence plan for all convicted prisoners for 12 months or more. This would cover the period from committal to release, and recognizes the autonomy of the person by involving the prisoner in discussion. However, the Report added that some progress in this regard is evident in the Irish Prison Service’s piloting of the “Integrated Sentence Management System” which moves to a prisoner focused model in which a personalized plan is made based on the needs of the particular individual.
Given that the prison population in Ireland seems on a steady upward arc, and given the apparent abandonment of the Thornton Hall prison plans, it is difficult to see how overcrowding can be alleviated. The Inspector called for reconsideration of the holding of illegal immigrants in prison, and welcomed the proposed move away from imprisoning fine defaulters. His progressive suggestion of temporary release combined with restorative justice initiatives could remedy overcrowding to a degree. However, it seems that an even more radical change is required, wherein imprisonment is regarded truly as the option of last resort, and where for non-violent crime the presumptive punishment is a community sanction or one based on restorative justice. Limiting the imposition of prison sentences to grave and violent crimes will improve the protection of human rights for those who are imprisoned, and will free up resources for alterative measures for non-violent and drug offenders who need not be detained in this way.