IRELAND’S SHAME AS EUROPEAN TORTURE COMMITTEE PRESENTS DAMNING INDICTMENT OF IRISH PRISON SYSTEM
The fifth report on Ireland from the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT), published today (Thursday, 10th Feb 2011), is the most critical yet, and a damning indictment of a prison system that is failing to meet the most basic human rights standards of safe and humane custody. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign organisation, is calling on all election candidates to take heed of this national disgrace and commit to rectifying the many human rights issues identified in the report, including slopping out, overcrowding, escalating violence, patchy provision of health care including mental health care, and above all, the failure to provide safe custody.
During the CPT’s last visit to Ireland, which took place from 25th January to 5thFebruary 2010, the Committee also examined detention in Garda stations and psychiatric institutions. However, the bulk of the report is given over to detailing the appalling human rights issues in Ireland’s prisons. The critical issues of prison healthcare and complaints receive particularly serious censure.
Speaking on the publication of the report, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said:
“This report further documents a prison system in crisis, with clear failures in many important aspects of the system – including in relation to healthcare, prisoner protection and investigation of complaints against staff. Undoubtedly some of the problems identified here stem from chronic prison overcrowding and inadequate penal policies, but many of the most serious issues highlight failures at an operational level to meet the most basic standards of safe and humane custody.”
“This report shows a litany of broken commitments and inaction in relation to chronic problems over the past two decades. There has been a failure of leadership to address the problems within our prisons. The bottom line is that prisoners and the general public are left with a prison system that is unacceptable and which has exposed Ireland to international shame. The next Government must prioritise addressing the problems in our prisons, and commit to getting prisoner numbers down.”
There were 3,150 prisoners in custody when the CPT visited in October 2006; this number had reached 4,100 on the occasion of the CPT’s 2010 visit to Ireland. On 25th January 2011, prisoner numbers were 4,541. Efforts being taken by the Irish Prison Service to address the issues cannot succeed unless Government take control of the overcrowding situation, which frustrates any attempts to tackle the serious problems outlined in this report.
Cork, Mountjoy and Limerick female prisons come in for particular criticism:
Cork: the CPT found plastic bags being used as toilets (paragraph 41), unacceptable dirty segregation cells (96) and inadequate visiting facilities (99). Prisoners also reported only being able to access one shower and change of underwear each week. The State’s response to these criticisms referred to the proposed new prison at Kilworth – a plan which is now acknowledged to be 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 (42)
Mountjoy prison: the persistent problems of overcrowding in chronic conditions were reinforced by the CPT, who found the prison in an overall poor state of repair (45). The criteria for placement at Mountjoy for those prisoners not deemed vulnerable was “available space, or even floor space”.
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 (52)
Photo: Irish Prison Services