IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Ebulletin #24

30th June 2005

VOICES RISING - Volume 3, Number 6

New Prison Rules allow for censorship of the Prison Inspector, says IPRT

The IPRT has strongly criticised aspects of the newly published Prison Rules, 2005 governing the inspection of prisons, stating that the regulations effectively undermine the Prison Inspector's ability to publish reports without political interference.

In publishing the new rules, Justice Minister McDowell said, "The rules for the first time...state that the Inspector shall be independent in the exercise of his or her functions."  However, the IPRT questioned how "independent" the Inspector's role can be when the new rules entrench the right of the Minister for Justice to censor sections of the Inspector's reports prior to publication.

According to Section 127(8) of the Prison Rules, "The Minister may exclude a part or parts of a report from publication or from laying before the Houses of the Oireachtas if publication or laying of such part or parts would (a) be against the public interest, or (b) adversely affect the rights of an individual." 

"It's quite ironic that the Minister describes the new rules as enshrining an 'independent' Prison Inspector, when they actually say nothing of the sort," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "Just the opposite, the rules specify that the Inspector's reports must be vetted and approved by the Minister for Justice prior to their publication or presentation to elected representatives. It's laughable to describe the Inspector's role as 'independent' when the Minister with the reponsibility for overseeing the prisons is allowed to approve the recommendations and criticisms directed at his own Department before they are published."

The IPRT also expressed concern that the news rules establish the Minister for Justice as the sole gatekeeper deciding what information is and is not in the "public interest" to publish. 

"The Inspector is supposed to play a public watchdog role to monitor prison conditions and programmes For the position to earn total public confidence, the Inspector must be free to speak without fear of interference, and resourced properly to do the job at hand," said Mr. Lines. "As it stands, the Inspector's role is neither transparent nor independent because the Minister has this power under the broad and general heading of 'not in the public interest' to remove anything he might want to from the inspection reports."

A spokeswoman for Mr McDowell was cited in the Irish Examiner saying that the provision was there to cover situations where the Inspector might want to draw to the attention of the Minister, but not necessarily to the public, issues relating to security of State.

"To suggest that the regulation is there for the benefit of the Prison Inpector is ludicrous, and simply not true," said Mr. Lines. "The Prison Rules refer specifically to censoring the Prison Inspector's reports that he intends for publication, not any other form of communications with the Minister or senior prison officials. If Section 127(8) is really about protecting against the release of information that might jeopardise prison security, then why doesn't it limit itself specifically to that?"

Said Mr. Lines, "I know for a fact that the Inspector regularly corresponds with the Minister on issues related to his duties.  This is private correspondence that allows the Inspector to raise any number of delicate issues he may deem inappropriate for publication.  That is simply not at issue."

Following the publication of the new rules, a Parliamentary Question put by Deputy Aengus O Snodaigh asked the Minister to "define the criteria" on which the publication of sections of future reports will be deemed be be against the public interest.  The Minister's response avoided the question, and simply restated the new regulation.

Alice in Wonderland vs. The Mad Hatter: McDowell reacts to IPRT criticism of mandatory drug testing

The new Prison Rules, 2005 published earlier this month will introduce Mandatory Drug Testing (MDT) of prisoners in Ireland, despite the fact that these programmes have failed to produce postive results in other jurisdictions. 

Since last year the IPRT has lead opposition to MDT in Ireland, highlighting international evidence that the programme does not deter drug use, and in fact encourages heroin injecting - and therefore the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission - in prisons. As reported in the last edition of VOICES RISING, this experience has recently caused the Scottish Prison Service to cancel MDT after 10 years of ongoing failure. However, Justice Minister Michael McDowell has chosen to ignore the international evidence against MDT, and push ahead with his plans, on the unsubstantiated belief that such testing will lead to drug free prisons.

During the press conference announcing the new Prison Rules, the Minister took particular exeception to the IPRT's continued calls for a prison drugs policy based upon evaluated models of international best practice, including opposition to MDT and support for prison syringe exchange. Singling out the organisation and its Executive Director by name, the Minister criticised the IPRT's position as "Alice in Wonderland politics". The IPRT responded to the Minister comments in the following Letter to the Irish Times, which was printed on 24 June.

Madam:

On June 22nd, Michael McDowell described the Irish Penal Reform Trust's (IPRT) support for an evidence-based prison drugs policy as "Alice in Wonderland politics". Yet even the briefest peek "through the looking glass" reveals that the Minister's plans repeat the failures of other countries while avoiding their successes.

For this reason, the IPRT has consistently opposed the introduction of mandatory drug testing because the international evidence shows that such testing increases heroin use among prisoners, increases drug injecting and the risk of HIV and hepatitis C transmission through shared syringes, reduces the uptake of voluntary drug treatment by prisoners, and wastes money that could be better spent on more effective drug programmes.

We have also consistently supported the provision of sterile syringes to prisoners as one component of a comprehensive drugs policy because the international evidence shows that these programmes save lives, reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among prisoners (and therefore the public), reduce drug overdoses, increase the referral of prisoners into drug treatment programmes, increase staff safety and security, and reduce the costs of prison healthcare.

Perhaps the IPRT's expectation that prison drugs programmes should actually achieve positive results is "Alice in Wonderland politics".

But it is certainly preferable to the Mad Hatter politics currently in vogue at the Department of Justice.

Yours,

Rick Lines, Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT coordinates international survey on Peer Health Education in prisons

The IPRT is currently coordinating a new international survey on the availability of Peer Health Education programmes in prisons in Council of Europe countries.

The term "Peer Health Education" is used to describe health education programmes or materials in which prisoners themselves are directly involved in the development of the content and/or structure of the intervention, or in the direct delivery of the educational programme itself.

The purpose of this survey is

a)      To assess the extent to which Peer Education methods are being used in prisons to educate prisoners on health issues

b)      To review the structure and content of those Peer Health Education initiatives currently in operation.

c)      To identify and review evaluated Peer Health Education models.

d)      To identify aspects of best practice in the sector

e)      To propose tools for professionals and volunteers working in prisons

f)        To contribute to the awareness of health issues for prisoners, prison staff, and their families

g)      To contribute to efforts to improve overall health in prisons

The survey is taking place under the auspices of the International Watch on Education in Prisons in Brussels, an international network of which the IPRT is the Irish partner.  Working with the IPRT on the design of the survey and the analysis of the results are Professor Morag MacDonald of the University of Central England in Birmingham and Professor Heino Stover of the University of Bremen in Germany.


"Living in the Past: The Americanization of the Irish prison system" by Rick Lines

The IPRT was recently invited to give the keynote address at the Annual Summer Law Academy Dinner at the Law Society in Dublin.

IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines's address was entitled "Living in the Past: The Americanization of the Irish Prison System".

"Prison 'not a way to cut crime'" - BBC News

The former head of New York's prison system is warning British policymakers that they do not need to jail more offenders in order to cut crime.

Michael Jacobson was in charge of New York's prison service in the 1990s when inmate numbers fell at the same time as crime fell substantially.

He described the "mass imprisonment" in the US as "a public policy gone mad".

He urged community-based prevention and non-jail alternatives for some breaches of release conditions.

Mr Jacobson, in London for a series of lectures, is currently director of the Vera Institute, a non-profit organisation which advises governments on the administration of justice.

Zero tolerance

He previously headed New York's probation service before becoming Corrections Commissioner.

The city's declining crime rates in the period were widely attributed to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's "zero tolerance" policy, in which police cracked down on minor offences to prevent more serious crimes.

But Mr Jacobson says the success of the policy was not due to tougher prison sentences as the use of jail terms fell.

"The New York experience challenges the conventional wisdom that the more people are imprisoned, the more crime declines," he said.

"The number of people in US jails and prisons reflects a public policy gone mad.

"Spending more and more money on incarceration and police does not mean crime will decrease."

He said public safety was influenced by many factors, not just the criminal justice system.

"Accessible health care, community-based mental health and child care, reasonable school class sizes and well-trained teachers, well-funded environmental and transportation agencies all protect public safety.

"Money spent on spiralling corrections cost has come at the expense of other crucial governmental services."

Mr Jacobson believes the UK, where jail numbers are at record levels and are forecast to rise further, can learn an "important lesson" from the US.

Benefits of imprisonment

Home Office figures last month showed the prison population in England and Wales has reached more than 76,000 for the first time on record.

However, one crime expert said prisons did not just prevent crime.

Professor Malcolm Davies, director of criminal justice at the social think tank Civitas, said: "Once people are locked up in prison - and the average prisoner commits about 140 crimes a year, according to the Prison Survey - you're stopping them doing that.

"So there's a positive benefit of imprisonment.

"And more crucially, in many ways, it's reassuring members of the public and victims that something's being done about crime."

© BBC MMV

"Reliance escort deal could cost taxpayer more" by Peter McMahon, The Scotsman

The contract granted to the controversial firm Reliance to transport prisoners in Scotland could end up costing the taxpayer more than it did in the public sector.

One of the country's leading statisticians yesterday claimed the cost of the private prisoner escort service had shot up 20 per cent.

Professor Sheila Bird said her analysis showed that the original £126 million seven-year estimated costs for Reliance had now increased to more than £150 million.

Reliance was the subject of controversy last year after a series of prisoner escapes following the firm's takeover of prisoner escort duties from police. The Scottish Prison Officers' Association called for the service to be returned to the public sector.

The SNP said the Reliance contract was "bungled" from the start.

© The Scotsman

"Prisons watchdog urged to launch inquiry" by Dan McDougall, The Scotsman

Scotland's prisons watchdog must launch an urgent investigation into the controversial private company in charge of custodial escorts, politicians and academics demanded last night.

The calls came after it emerged yesterday that Scotland's chief inspector of prisons, Dr Andrew McLellan, has always had the power to intervene and scrutinise Reliance Custodial Services but has failed to do so. Reliance has been heavily criticised for a series of high-profile errors, including the accidental release of a convicted murderer.

Speaking to The Scotsman yesterday, Scotland's leading statistician, Professor Sheila Bird, who has studied Reliance's performance and concluded that it is running 20 per cent over budget, urged Dr McLennan to act. "The disclosure powers of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons [HMCIP] for Scotland in respect of Reliance are considerable. The Scottish Prison Service [SPS] carefully wrote into its contract with Reliance that prisoner inspections were subject to HMCIP inspection and that Reliance had to comply with data requests from the inspector and that inspectorate reports would be disseminated publicly.

"Thus Scotland needs to look to HMCIP for full disclosure about Reliance's performance, penalties and targets."

Reliance came under serious criticism last year after Scotland's freedom-of-information watchdog admitted defeat in his attempts to force the security firm to make public details of its £126 million contract with the Executive. Kevin Dunion, the Information Commissioner, conceded that the SPS was legally entitled not to publish parts of the Reliance contract due to a confidentiality clause.

According to Prof Bird, the issue surrounding public disclosure of the contract details could be dealt with by a thorough inspection by Dr McLellan. She added: "There are so many grey areas in the Reliance contract ... A comprehensive inspection by HMCIP would help to address growing concerns about prisoner security and public safety."

The Executive yesterday confirmed that Dr McLennan, a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, has the power to impose a high-profile inspection on Reliance. A spokesman said: "As Dr McLellan ... has always made clear, among the aspects of the conditions and treatment of prisoners inspected by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons are their conditions and treatment under escort. The chief inspector intends to inspect conditions and treatment under escort during the normal programme of prison inspections."

But the Scottish National Party's justice spokesman, Stewart Stevenson, said last night: "With the succession of serious failures within Reliance, this is an organisation which has been begging to be inspected. It's clear from the contract that the inspector of prisons has the authority to conduct such an investigation, and so it's curious that a company performing this vital public service has attracted so much attention from every quarter except for the agency which is there officially to oversee their work."

Reliance claims that Prof Bird's comments are at odds with a recent report by the SPS, which found that the firm was responsible for fewer mistaken releases than police and prison service officers in its first year of duties.

The report found Reliance was to blame for only 22 of the 56 prisoners accidentally released in that time. A further 23 incidents were because of the failure of other authorities, such as the police or the prison service, while the final 11 cases were excusable failures.

© The Scotsman

"Fighting AIDS Behind Bars" - New York Times Editorial

The United States will never contain deadly diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C until it prevents them from spreading behind bars, where infection levels are many times as high as in the world outside and the diseases spread easily, thanks in part to unprotected sex among inmates.

Routine testing and education programs in prison are a must. But so are common-sense programs that distribute condoms behind bars. These programs have long since been standard operating procedure in prison systems abroad,but are unavailable in about 95 percent of this country's prisons.

This situation has persisted despite studies showing that same-sex encounters behind bars are more common than prison officials care to admit, and despite warnings from public health officials, who have pointed out time and again that the highest AIDS rates are typically found in the communities where the largest numbers of ex-offenders live. But a condom distribution bill recently passed by the California State Assembly could well be the beginning of a more sensible policy - not just in California, but in the country as a whole.

Pushed through the Assembly by Paul Koretz, a Democrat from West Hollywood, the bill has yet to clear the Senate. If it does, it will require California's corrections system, the nation's largest, to allow public health and nonprofit groups to distribute condoms to inmates. The Assembly wisely rejected the spurious argument that distributing condoms would promote sex in prison - understanding that sex among inmates is common and will continue no matter what lawmakers say.

The Assembly, which is the more conservative of California's two legislative houses, passed the bill thanks to strong support from medical, civil rights and law enforcement organizations, all of which have watched the AIDS epidemic with growing alarm. The bill deserves to be passed by the State Senate and to be widely emulated. After all, the country needs all the tools it can get in the fight against AIDS. 

© New York Times