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Ebulletin #23

31st May 2005

VOICES RISING - Volume 3, Number 5

NEWSFLASH: McDowell warns of "pointy-headed" threat to social order!!

It seems that Justice Minister Michael McDowell is not too pleased by the work of the Coalition Against ASBOs in raising public opposition to his latest criminal justice gimmick - Anti Social Behaviour Orders.

Speaking before the Seanad on Wednesday 11 May, McDowell warned Senators of the looming threat to the social order posed by "pointy-headed intellectuals" who would dare question his wisdom in imposing ASBOs in Ireland.

Addressing Senators in the Seanad, the Minister stated,

"Critics are lining up, particularly in one newspaper, to claim there is something wrong with anti-social behaviour orders. They should get real and talk to people in communities where these are important issues. They should get out of their leafy suburbs, the halls and corridors of their universities and their lawyers\' offices and talk to people who must put up with this type of behaviour every day. A coalition against ASBOs has been founded by a group of people who clearly are not on the receiving end of anti-social behaviour. They do not know anybody and would not know how to talk to anybody in the position described by Senator Brian Hayes.....

I make no apology for going down the ASBO route to this group of people who I would put at the pointy-headed intellectual end of the spectrum. They know nothing about the effect that anti-social behaviour can have on people who have no protection in the absence of some means of enforcing a degree of decency on neighbours from hell or people from the neighbourhood who are making their life a hell. I make no apology for the proposal to adopt ASBOs. This approach has been tried in Britain and the House of Commons has reviewed its effectiveness. I invite those people who think there is something wrong with the system to consult those reports."

It would appear that the Minister is none too pleased by the success Coalition members putting those pointy heads of ours to good use by poking gaping holes in his weak pro-ASBO arguments.

The Government\'s ASBO plans were dealt a further blow two weeks later when the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents rank-and-file police officers, criticised the ASBOs as "a form of window dressing".  The GRA said that loutish behaviour can already be tackled under existing legislation - but there wasn\'t enough gardaí to enforce the existing law.  Perhaps we can expect to see new Garda uniforms featuring peaked hats of cover their newly pointy-heads as well, as well as all Garda stations being relocated into "leafy suburbs"?

McDowell concluded his main statement on the matter by saying,

"I welcome a debate on this subject...by all means let us have a political conversation and a vigorous debate on the issue but, in the last analysis, let us be real and let us talk about the people who are in the front line."

The IPRT encourages people to take the Minister up on his invitation, and start by ringing or emailing all our local TDs to voice our opposition to the imposition of ASBOs. Also email taoiseach@taoiseach.irlgov.ie; minister@justice.ie; brian.lenihan@oireachtas.irlgov.ie to let them hear from "people who are in the front line" who know that ASBOs are nothing more than a political gimmick from a Government with no real commitment to addressing anti-social behaviour in any meaningful or effective way. 

You might also contact that "one particular newspaper" that comes under suspicion from the Minister, to keep the issue in the news lettersed@irish-times.ie.

Groups Unite in Opposition to Anti Social Behaviour Orders

The newly formed Coalition Against ASBOs outlined its opposition, today, Wednesday to the plans by the Fianna Fail/PD Government to introduce Anti Social Behaviour Orders. The Coalition is a campaigning alliance of organisations and individuals concerned about the proposed introduction of anti social behaviour orders in our communities.

Speaking at a press conference in Buswells, held immediately following the Coalition's briefing of TDs and Senators in Leinster House, Matt Foot a leading expert on Anti Social Behaviour Orders in the UK warned against the proposed introduction of anti social behaviour orders in Ireland. (An Anti Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) is a civil order made by the court and based upon a balance of probabilities that the person has engaged in behaviour causing 'harassment, alarm and distress'.) 

"Behaviour likely to cause 'harassment, alarm or distress' is capable of including everyone from serious criminals to people whose appearance makes us feel uneasy, said Matt Foot Coordinator of ASBO Concern in the UK.  An order made on this basis is arbitrary, has no regard for the normal legal process, and doesn't deal with the causes of antisocial behaviour in the first place, " said Foot. 

"Evidence from the UK demonstrates that ASBOs are being abused in some areas. This is due in large part to the frightening vagueness of the definition. In many incidents, individuals are receiving a custodial sentence where the original offence was not itself imprisonable. The ASBO is clearly therefore, moving offenders up tariff and resulting in the inappropriate use of custody," said Foot.

"This is a knee jerk reaction rather than a considered attempt to tackle juvenile crime", said Geoffrey Shannon, Irish Child Law Expert and Solicitor. "We need to stop panicking and behave responsibly when discussing crime and anti social behaviour."

"Anti social behaviour can be tackled using the wide range of measures available under the Children Act 2001 and through support services based in local communities," said Shannon.

"To be successful however, we must fully implement and resource the Children Act and resource existing support services. ASBOs are an unnecessary and counterproductive addition to the current framework for dealing with children in conflict with the law," Shannon continued.

Members of the Coalition Against ASBOs include: Children's Rights Alliance, National Youth Council of Ireland, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Barnardos, Irish Youth Foundation, ISPCC, Irish Penal Reform Trust, Amnesty International (Irish Section), Comhlamh, The Ark, ICON Inner City Organisations Network, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Sugradh, DICP/LTDF, Arrupe Society, Irish Refugee Council, Irish Traveller Movement,  Pavee Point, Union of Students of Ireland, Integrating Ireland, Community Policing Forum N.E.I.C., Bluebell Youth Project, Cabra Youth Service, Kilbarrack Community Project, Swan Youth Project, Rialto Youth Project, Finglas Youth Reach Centre, Solicitors Geoffrey Shannon, Sarah Molloy, Catherine Ghent, Ursula Kilkelly, Pol O Murchu, Leonora Mullett, Barristers: Teresa Blake, Mary Ellen Ring, Aisling Reidy, Ivana Bacik, Individuals,  Father Peter McVerry SJ, Louise Cadwell, John Nisbet, Paul O'Mahony , Seamus Kinlen.

Scottish decision to scrap Mandatory Drug Testing in prisons latest blow to McDowell plan

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has welcomed reports that the Scottish Prison Service will end mandatory drug testing (MDT) in prisons.  The IPRT says the decision is an admission that MDT fails to address prison drug use, and is calling on the Government to face up to this evidence of failure and abandon its plans to introduce MDT in Ireland.

Prison officials in Scotland plan to scrap mandatory drug testing after admitting the policy has failed to tackle rising heroin use. According to a senior Scottish prison official quoted in The Scotsman newspaper,  "The existing approach to tackling drugs in prison [MDT] simply isn't working. People are continuing to use drugs...Mandatory testing only really works if people are willing to be treated, but if they aren't then it isn't much use."   Scottish Prison Officers also voiced their opposition to MDT, saying it has encouraged heroin use among prisoners and has created a confrontational relationship between staff and prisoners that has discouraged uptake of drug treatment programmes.

"The international evidence is overwhelming that the Government's plan to introduce MDT has no hope of achieving its stated objectives," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines, who is recognised internationally for his work in the area of drugs and HIV policy in prisons. "MDT is a policy driven by political posturing, and a desire to appear 'tough on drugs', rather than on any evidence of effectiveness or good practice.  It is a cynical and simplistic political response to an urgent and complex health problem."

The Scottish decision is the latest blow to Michael McDowell's attempts to portray MDT as a useful or sensible tool to tackle the issue of drug use in prison. Earlier this year, a report from the Scottish Prison Service found that the drug intake of 76% of Scottish prisoners was not effected by MDT.  In England, a 1997 evaluation of Britain's MDT policy concluded the policy was "counterproductive" because it "increases tension in prisons, appears to be encouraging a shift from 'soft' to 'hard' drugs, is adding to the workload of an already overburdened staff, is costing a lot of money that could be better spent and is failing to provide adequate treatment and follow-up procedures."

Said Mr. Lines, "The Scottish experience reflects the existing international evidence that rather than combating drug use in prison, MDT actually increases heroin use and heroin injecting and leads many to begin injecting heroin because it is more difficult to detect by urine screening. This has also been documented by prison officials I have met from Britain, Canada, Switzerland and Germany.  By encouraging increased injecting, MDT increases the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission in prisons via syringe sharing," said Mr. Lines.

"Drug use in Irish prisons is a serious problem requiring a serious solution.  While gimmicks like MDT may be attractive to pollsters and to politicians insulated within the walls of Government Buildings, to those working to develop comprehensive and effective responses to drug use and HIV/Hepatitis C in prisons they are an unhelpful distraction. Faced with the mounting evidence that MDT is at best ineffective and at worst dangerous, the Government must abandon its plans to impose this failed scheme and instead implement comprehensive drug treatment and HIV/Hepatitis C prevention measures that reflect international best practice," said Mr. Lines.

Letter to the Editor, Irish Examiner: "Why privatise jail escort service?"

Your editorial (Irish Examiner, May 6) states that privatisation of the prison escort service "purely for cost-cutting purposes is something that warrants very serious consideration."

You might be interested to know that this proposal has in fact already been given serious consideration by a Department of Justice expert committee, whose findings are completely at odds with Justice Minister Michael McDowell's drive to privatise.

The Department of Justice's prison service staffing and operations review team (SORT) released a report to Mr McDowell in July 2002 on the prison escort service, with a view to improving efficiencies and reducing overtime costs.

This expert committee found it was not reasonable to conclude that privatisation would necessarily be cheaper or more efficient than a restructured escort service maintained in the public sector.

Rather than privatisation, SORT recommended that a centrally managed escort system be created and run within the public service.

Ignoring the recommendations of his own experts is but one of several examples showing that the minister has no interest in pursuing the type of evidence-based consideration suggested in your editorial.

For example, Mr McDowell admitted in answers to parliamentary questions that his department is unable to "comprehensively identify" the current cost of the escort service or provide assurances that a privatised service would result in cost savings.

More troubling still is the minister's admission that "no detailed research was undertaken into the experience of privatised prisoner transport in other jurisdictions."

How can the minister promise significant cost savings from a privatised escort scheme when his department cannot identify with any certainty the cost of the current system, and when his own experts found that claims of cost savings could not rightfully be made?

How can he claim that a privatised scheme will be more efficient when he admits having done no research into existing schemes in other jurisdictions?

Only a few weeks ago Mr McDowell was openly questioning the fitness of private security firms safely and efficiently to handle cash transits.

How then can he seriously propose that private security companies be given the responsibility of transporting prisoners?

Given these admissions, and with no evidence to the contrary being provided by the minister, it would seem that this is a case of public policy being made on the back of an envelope based on ideology rather than evidence.

Rick Lines
Executive Director
Irish Penal Reform Trust

Submission of the Irish Penal Reform Trust to the Criminal Courts Complex User Panel

In May, the IPRT made a submission to the Criminal Courts Complex User Panel on the construction of the proposed Criminal Courts Complex (CCC).  The submission was prepared by IPRT Chair Claire Hamilton and Vice Chair, Patricia Brazil.

The IPRT submission is available on our website.

IPRT Executive Director to address the Annual Summer Law Academy Dinner

IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines will give the keynote address at the Annual Summer Law Academy Dinner. 

The Summer Law Academy is a joint initiative between the Law Schools of University College Dublin, NUI Galway and the University of Missouri (Kansas City).  The programmme brings US Law School students to Ireland over a five week study period.

Mr. Lines will speak on the topic "The Americanization of the Irish prison system".

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: Social Policy and Human Rights

The question whether Irish law should introduce anti-social behaviour orders has provoked a huge debate. 

On the one hand, it is said that there is a clear and social need to control anti-social behaviour which is causing severe disturbance and fear to residents, many of them elderly people  On the other hand, it is contended that anti-social behaviour orders would turn more young people into criminals, damaging the effectiveness of other social and legal policies.  Questions as to the consistency of ASBOs with the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights have also given rise to a debate.

The speakers have particular expertise in law, criminology, penology and human rights.  There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion.

The fee to attend the conference is 100 euros, however there is a special reduced rate of 50 euros for NGOs and other interested organisations.

If you would like further information, don't hesitate to contact:

Catherine Finnegan
School of Law,
House 39, Trinity College, Dublin 2.
Telephone (01) 608 2367
Fax (01) 677 0449


5:30  Registration

6:00     ASBOs: Criminology and Penological Aspects  (Speaker:  Ivana Bacik)

6:20     ASBOs: Yet Another Pig in the Poke and Backward Step for Juvenile Justice (Speaker:  Paul O'Mahony)

6:40     ASBOs and Children at Risk - Implications for Law and Practice (Speaker:  Geoffrey Shannon)

7:00     Tea / Coffee Break

7:20     ASBOs: A Human Rights Challenge (Speaker:  Ursula Kilkenny)

7:40     ASBOs: Issues of Principle and Policy (Speaker:  Sarah Benson)

8:00     Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and the Constitution (Speaker:  William Binchy)

8:20    Questions and Discussion

"Prison drug tests 'failing to have impact'" by Michael Howie, The Scotsman

Scottish prison chiefs are to scrap the compulsory drug testing of inmates after admitting it had failed to tackle rising heroin abuse behind bars.

Prison officers say mandatory random drug tests (MRDTs), which were introduced ten years ago at the height of the so-called "war on drugs", have actually encouraged the use of heroin in jails.

But opposition politicians say the decision shows the Scottish Executive has "thrown in the towel" on eradicating drugs in prisons.

Under current rules at least 10 per cent of prisoners are tested every month. If an inmate tests positive, privileges, including access to their money, recreational activities and movement between jails, can be stopped.

Under the proposed new system, there will be no such punishments. Instead, officers will concentrate their efforts on encouraging prisoners to seek treatment for their drug problems.

Scrapping MRDTs is expected to be formally agreed later this year, but it is understood prison chiefs have already decided it is a necessary step. The Executive has given its blessing to the move.

According to research, about half of prisoners will have taken drugs in jail in the previous month. Of those, nearly a third will have taken heroin.

A senior prison source said: "The existing approach to tackling drugs in prison simply isn't working. People are continuing to use drugs. In fact, it pushed people on to other drugs which do not stay in someone's system for so long - like heroin, which only stays in the urine for three days. Often, people who are taking drugs were 'getting off' because the tests were coming back negative.

"Mandatory testing only really works if people are willing to be treated, but if they aren't then it isn't much use."

However, Annabel Goldie, the Tories' justice spokeswoman, said: "This is yet another indication that the Scottish Executive has thrown in the towel in the fight against drugs. When so many of our prisoners are known to be drug addicts, it is essential for both prison regimes and any meaningful attempt to assist prisoner rehabilitation that we know what's going on in our prisons.

"This is a significant step backwards and yet further evidence that the Scottish Executive has given up on drug abuse in Scotland."

A survey last year revealed that random drug tests had had "no effect" on more than three-quarters of prisoners.

In 2003-4, nearly 6,500 mandatory tests - one for each prisoner - were carried out, revealing 32 per cent of inmates were taking heroin. About a fifth showed signs of cannabis abuse.

Previously, the proportion of inmates taking heroin had remained relatively constant at about a quarter.

Lord Forsyth, who as Scottish Secretary, introduced MRDTs to jails north of the Border in 1994, claimed the decision to abandon them showed the prison system had "failed lamentably" to tackle drug abuse.

"This is a disaster for people who have to go into prison because people who go in without a drug problem very often come out with one," he said.

"If you look at the causes of crime, drugs play a very important role, causing much re-offending, particularly in relation to robberies and assaults.

"Prisons are supposed to be about protecting the public. They are not doing that if they are discharging people with drug problems.

"To abandon [MRDT] because it hasn't worked is basically to acknowledge they have failed lamentably to address drug taking in prison."

But Sir Clive Fairweather, a former chief inspector of prisons, accused Lord Forsyth of having forced mandatory drug testing on prisons when they did not have proper drug treatment programmes in place.

"Michael Forsyth asked me what I thought about random drug testing," he said. "I felt the educational and rehabilitation programmes weren't in place, but he said he was going to press ahead with them anyway. He introduced them with astonishing speed.

"The Scottish Prison Service did their best to implement what was a political decision."

He went on: "The drug problem is getting so huge, it would make more sense to test people to find out who hadn't taken drugs.

"I think it's a bold move by the prison service, although the public may not like it. It makes sense to transfer resources from the punitive, mandatory approach and concentrate on working with prisoners to help them overcome their problems."

A significant chunk of the prison service's £4.4million addiction-problems budget is spent on MRDTs. About 7,000 testing kits have to be bought and analysed every year, and frontline officers have to spend a large amount of time carrying out the tests.

More funds will in future be diverted towards rehabilitation programmes in an attempt to drastically reduce the number of prisoners being released with an addiction problem.

Initially, prisoners who tested positive had their sentences increased, but that was scrapped after a challenge under human rights laws.

Tom Wood, the chairman of the Edinburgh action team on alcohol and drugs and a former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, said there was an "immense" drugs problem in prisons. "Sometimes we have to be bold and change tactics," he said. "We have got to try something new because the systems that have been tried up to now aren't working.

"This is a radical move and people will say it's throwing in the towel, but I'm supportive of anything that gets to grips with the problem."

Prison officers say moving away from mandatory testing will create a less confrontational approach by staff towards inmates, encouraging more to take part in drug treatment programmes.

Eighty per cent of inmates who admit injecting heroin say they share needles, raising the spectre of an HIV and hepatitis epidemic in Scottish prisons.

Professor Sheila Bird, who introduced HIV tests for prisoners at Saughton prison in Edinburgh in 1991, said mandatory tests had failed to show how many prisoners were injecting heroin. "MRDTs don't give you enough information about how drugs are taken," she said. "Why spend the money on having trained officers dealing with mandatory tests when all you get is a headline figure?"

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said: "The SPS believe encouraging prisoners to face up to their problems at an earlier stage is central to a modern, mature approach to tackling drugs in prison. For many prisoners, this is a very tough decision. When they do, they can expect support from SPS."


THE latest drug overdose in a Scottish prison took place last weekend when a young woman was found dead at Scotland's only all-female prison.

The woman's cell-mate was also rushed to hospital after using a batch of what is believed to have been contaminated heroin smuggled into the prison.

Lynn Ann McLean, 21, of Kelso, was on remand at Cornton Vale Prison in Stirling when she was found dead in her cell on Sunday morning.

At one point recently, 100 per cent of admissions were found to have addiction problems.

The latest death highlighted the troubled history of Cornton Vale, where five women committed suicide in the late 1990s. An average of one suicide a year has taken place since 2000.

A BBC investigation into Kilmarnock prison last month claimed officers turned a blind eye to drug-taking.

Last year prison staff recorded 3,011 offences of taking or concealing drugs. More than 300 prisoners were caught in the act of taking drugs.

 © The Scotsman

"Prison gets worse for women" by Michael Howie, The Scotsman

The "miserable" condition of inmates at Scotland's only women's jail deteriorated even further in the past year, Scotland's chief inspector of prisons has found.

Dr Andrew McLellan said he was "even more sad" at the physical and mental condition of prisoners at Cornton Vale than at the time of his last report in 2004.

During a follow-up inspection in February, he found 98 per cent of inmates were drug addicts, 80 per cent suffered mental health problems and 75 per cent had a history of abuse.

Dr McLellan also criticised prison authorities for failing to tackle "degrading" toilet access arrangements which meant some prisoners had to urinate in the sink of their cell.

Speaking before the publication of his follow-up inspection report today, Dr McLellan said: "When I reported last year on Cornton Vale I was extremely upset at the miserable condition of women coming into prison and the unrealistic expectation that prison could do anything very good to turn around the lives of people with such a degree of physical problems, mental problems, drug addiction and history of abuse.

"Here I am a year on, even more sad than before. I'm not saying women shouldn't be sent to prison, but I think I am being realistic enough to recognise the condition of those coming into prison makes it almost impossible for prison to do anything that will reduce criminal behaviour."

In last year's inspection Dr McLellan found "more than 90 per cent" of inmates had addiction problems and over 60 per cent had a history of abuse. He said yesterday: "The statistics were awful last year and were marginally worse this year."

His report states: "For prisoners in Younger House (which holds around 40 of the jail's inmates from a prison population of 230) the arrangements for access to toilets at night are as humiliating and degrading as they were last year."

Dr McLellan's report welcomes building work on new accommodation for at least 50 inmates, the opening of a new family centre, improved conditions at reception and the refurbishment of the jail's mother-and-baby unit.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said: "We welcome this report and have taken active steps to address many of the issues raised.

"Since the inspection we have installed CCTV cameras in the corridors, which allows prisoners to go unaccompanied to the toilet at night.

"There is a huge amount of health care provided to women in prison."

 © The Scotsman

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