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Ebulletin #25

29th August 2005

VOICES RISING - Volume 3, Number 7/8

New IPRT report challenges Prison Inspector's call for private prisons

A new report severely criticises last month's recommendation by the Prison Inspector to introduce private prisons in Ireland, describing it as being "based upon conjecture and inaccuracy".

Inspecting Private Prisons: An evidence-based critique of the Prison Inspector's call to introduce private prisons in Ireland was published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) in response to the Third Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons which called for the privatisation of one prison on a "trial basis" and the eventual opening up of the prison service to private competition.

The report also calls upon Justice Minister Michael McDowell to "make a firm and unequivocal commitment" against privatising prisons in Ireland. Despite two years of denials about having any pro-privatisation intentions, the Minister has announced that he is now considering privatising the new super prisons planned for Dublin and Cork. 

Citing the most recent research from both Government and independent sources in the UK, US, Australia and elsewhere, the IPRT report shows the international evidence of prison privatisation does not support the Inspector's recommendations or Minister McDowell's plans.  The IPRT report catalogues a series of false or unsubstantiated claims about the experience of private prisons made in the Inspector's Annual Report.

The new IPRT report concludes:

1. The Prison Inspector has no mandate to comment on the issue of prison privatisation. In making recommendations in favour of privatisation, the Inspector significantly over-steps the Terms of Reference of his office.

2. Even if the Inspector did possess an appropriate mandate to comment, his recommendations in favour of private prisons are not supported by the evidence.

3. There is no independent academic comparative research showing that private companies deliver prison services at less cost than the public service, and this claim is contested by Government and independent reports from numerous countries. Therefore the Prison Inspector's claims of cost savings through privatisation are unsubstantiated.

4. The operational evidence of private prisons is at best mixed. Therefore the Prison Inspector's claims of increased efficiency and innovation via privatisation are not proved.

5. There is no evidence of reduced recidivism from private prisons.

6. The Inspector's recommendation in support of private prisons is based almost exclusively on information provided by the private prisons industry itself, or by UK business lobbyists supporting the privatisation of custodial services.

7. There is a fundamental contradiction between the Inspector's call for private prisons and his more significant finding that "for most prisoners prison does not work". If prison does not work as an effective response to offending, privatising prisons entrenches the problem rather than offering a sensible solution.

"The only rationale ever produced by Minister McDowell in support of privatisation was the issue of excessive prison officer overtime.  This rationale was eliminated with last week's resolution of the dispute with the POA," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines.  "This new report shows clearly that the Prison Inspector's pro-privatisation recommendations are deeply flawed, and provide no new basis for the Minister to pursue failed privatisation schemes in Ireland."

"We are calling upon the Minister to end his two years of ambiguity and evasiveness on this issue and make a clear an unequivocal commitment against privatising Irish prisons, in particular the new super prisons planned for Dublin and Cork.  If he is unwilling to make such a statement, then it will be clear to all that privatisation is moving ahead behind closed doors, whatever public claims to the contrary emerge from the Department of Justice."

Prison Needle Exchange: Prison Service gets it wrong again

Seems like the Prison Inspector's Office isn't the only Government department in need of a good fact checker. 

The IPRT has learned that the 2004 submission of the Irish Prisons Service to the Mid-term Review of the National Drug Strategy provides false information on prison syringes exchange programmes.

According to the Prison Service's submission, "I understand that other submissions to your group have advocated needle exchange programmes in Irish prisons."  It continues, "In the small number of prison systems where they do exist, they are generally based in low security, open centres where conditions are far different to those in higher security, closed prisons similar to those Irish prisons where needle sharing is an acknowledged practice among opiate-addicted prisoners."

In fact, the Prison Service is completely wrong in stating that most syringe exchange programmes are found in low security, open prisons - a mistake which leads us to wonder whether anyone in the Prison Service bothered to read the major report Prison Needle Exchange Lessons From A Comprehensive Review Of International Evidence And Experience which was co-authored by the IPRT and sent to various officials in the Prison Service last November.

This thorough international review of prison syringe exchange programmes specifically addresses this fallacy, and demonstrates that syringe exchange programmes are successfully operating in prisons of all sizes and all security levels. For example, syringe exchange programmes are approved for all prisons in Spain and in Kyrgyzstan.  Is the Irish Prison Service really suggesting that most Spanish and Kyrgyz prisons are low security, open facilities, and that there are no high security closed prisons? 

But the most incredible part of the Prison Service's comments on needle exchange is not that they are wrong (after all, this is not the first time!) but that they rubbish needle exchange while at the same time admitting, "needle sharing is an acknowledged practice among opiate-addicted prisoners."  That the Prison Service can willingly acknowledge high-risk behaviour among prisoners for the transmission of HIV and Hep C, and at the same time use false information to argue against implementing effective prevention programmes, speaks volumes about this Government's negligent approach to this important health issue.

IPRT welcomes MEP's support for prisoner voting rights

The IPRT has welcomed the call from Fine Gael TD and MEP Gay Mitchell for the Government to extend voting rights to prisoners.

Said Deputy Mitchell, "Giving votes to prisoners would not only acknowledge their rights but it would also underline their responsibility for themselves and to society. Furthermore, it might encourage politicians to take a greater interest in penal reform and to invest greater effort in considering why it is that 75% of Dublin's criminals come from five identifiable areas."

In March 2003, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. In doing so, the Court struck down a UK law that denies serving prisoners the right to exercise their franchise in national elections.  Yet almost a year and a half after this ruling, the Irish Government has still not taken action to ensure that all its citizens are able to exercise their most basic democratic right.

New report shows links between homelessness, drug use and prison

A new report shows that half of Ireland's prisoners have a history of homelessness, and that significant numbers of prisoners struggle with chronic drug use and/or mental illness.

According to the researchers, a significant proportion of the prison population is made up of petty repeat offenders, and not dangerous criminals. The report raises doubts about the effectiveness of the Ireland's use of short prison sentences, and recommends that community-based sanctions be more fully developed.

The study, which was commissioned by the Probation and Welfare Service, examined the records of just over 10,000 individuals before the courts or in prison.

No condoms in prisons -- McDowell

A series of Parliamentary Questions from Green Party Justice Spokesperson Ciaran Cuffe has forced Justice Minister Michael McDowell to admit that he has no intention of introducing condoms into prisons as a measure to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

In a question earlier this spring, Deputy Cuffe asked the Minister to comment on the status of various recommendations in a 1999 study funded by the Department of Justice on HIV and Hep C in prisons.  One of the recommendations of that study was that condoms be provided to prisoners. (Ireland is one of the only countries in Western Europe that does not provide condoms in prisons.)

Minister McDowell answered, "While the free availability of condoms within a prison situation has certain health implications there are a wider range of considerations which would have to be taken into account before contemplating the issue of condoms to prisoners.  To date I am not aware that there has been any demand by prisoners to have access to condoms.  The matter is, however, being kept under on-going review."

This answer gives the impression that the Minister is not opposed to condoms in principle, and would be open to "contemplating the issue" based upon evidence produced through the "on-going review" of the matter. 

In a follow-up question, Deputy Cuffe's asked the Minister to "detail the manner in which the issue of condom distribution in prisons 'is being kept under ongoing review'", including identifying the person(s) tasked with monitoring this issue and whether reports were made to the Minister or the Director of the Prison Service as part of the review process.

On 30 June, the Minister replied, "To date, I have not received any 'reports' on this matter as referred to by the Deputy. I am not aware that there is, in fact, any demand by prisoners that they be provided with condoms while in prison." The Minister's answer did not identify any person in the Prison Service tasked with the responsibility for monitoring this issue.

So according to Minster McDowell, the issue of condoms in prisons is being "kept under on-going review" by the Prison Service, yet no one has the responsibility for conducting this review. This probably explains why the Minister has "not received any 'reports' on this matter". Since no one in the Prison Service is apparently tasked with monitoring the issue, it's hardly surprising that Mr. McDowell is not "aware that there is...any demand by prisoners that they be provided with condoms". All this makes for an interesting 'review process', to say the least.

The Minister concluded by admitting, "I have no plans to distribute condoms in prisons", which begs the question why he bothers to keep the matter "under on-going review" at all. 

Don't miss the funniest speech of the summer!

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell gives out about "the politically correct self-appointed lay hierarchy who direct modern Ireland's Moral Inquisition" in his Address at the McGill Summer School.  Read what McDowell really thinks about the rest of us.  Hilarious!

Canadian Medical Association passes resolution calling for Syringe Exchange in Prison

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has lent its voice to the growing international support for prison syringe exchange programmes.

The CMA is Canada's national, voluntary association of physicians that advocates on behalf of its members and the public for access to high quality health care. Its membership includes more than 60,000 physicians, medical residents and medical students from across Canada.

At the Association's 138th Annual Meeting earlier this month in Edmonton, Alberta, the following resolution was passed.

The Canadian Medical Association recommends that Correctional Service of Canada develop, implement and evaluate at least one pilot needle exchange program in prison/s under its jurisdiction.  

The resolution was sponsored by the Ontario Medical Association, which released a report on prison needle exchange in 2004. The OMA's position paper, "Improving Our Health: Why is Canada lagging behind in establishing needle exchange programs in prisons?" reveals that intravenous drug use in prisons is contributing to the transmission of these diseases in Ontario's communities.

The OMA recommended that all federal prisons and prisons in Ontario implement a needle exchange program to help prevent the spread of these diseases.

"Jails watchdog investigate prisoner escort firm" by Michael Howie, The Scotsman

Scotland's chief inspector of prisons is preparing to begin a formal examination of prisoner escort services run by Reliance, it has emerged.

But Dr Andrew McLellan was last night accused of dragging his heels after it emerged he is unlikely to publish his findings until 2007.

The prisons watchdog has been urged to carry out an urgent investigation into the controversial private company in charge of custodial escorts following a series of high-profile errors, including the accidental release of a convicted murderer, since its contract began in April 2004.

The Scottish Executive yesterday said the methodology for the inspection was being drawn up and that the inspector would report back "before the end of the next financial year".

But Professor Sheila Bird, one of Scotland's leading statisticians, said the timeframe was unacceptable.

"It's astonishing that he will not report back before 2006-07, considering his counterparts in England and Wales have already managed to produce two thematic reports on prisoner escort services.

"They told me in January that they were working out the methodology. How long does it take? His predecessor previously drew up plans for prisoner escort inspections," she said.

An Executive spokeswoman said Dr McLellan would be inspecting the treatment and conditions of prisoners being transported under escort.

She said: "In terms of specifically what he will be looking at, the methodology is still being developed.

"The inspector has said he will be looking to report back before the end of the next financial year."

Meanwhile, a follow-up inspection report into conditions at Peterhead Prison has criticised the ongoing practice of slopping out.

The jail, which houses a number of sex offenders, was praised for installing electric power in cells and new "top-end" accommodation for a small number of prisoners.

An increase in sex offenders attending the jail's Stop rehabilitation programme was also commended.

In the report, Dr McLellan said: "The conditions in which Peterhead prisoners live will never be decent while slopping-out continues."

© The Scotsman

"Inmates rule roost at private jail" by Eric Allison, The Guardian

A private prison was yesterday described as "unsafe", with prisoners bullying staff, and drugs, knives and alcohol freely available.

The inspection report into Rye Hill prison, near Rugby, was described by the Prison Reform Trust as "one of the most damning reports of a prison we have seen".

The trust's director, Juliet Lyon, said: "This prison appears to be run not by a private company, but by the prisoners themselves."

The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, said Rye Hill had deteriorated to the extent that, at the time of inspection, it was "an unsafe and unstable environment".

Inspectors found inexperienced staff on a wing of 70 unlocked prisoners, "surviving by ignoring misbehaviour or evidence of illicit possessions". They also witnessed evidence of staff being bullied by prisoners.

In the period immediately before the inspection, in April, the jail, holding 600 serious offenders, had experienced an apparently self-inflicted death in the segregation unit. A hostage was taken and there had been a 100% rise in the number of assaults against staff, at a time when assault figures are down across the service.

Staff and prisoners told inspectors that managers at the jail gave no support to custody staff and were rarely seen on the wings when prisoners were unlocked. The report also highlighted failings in the race relations programme at the jail. An analysis of use of force data shown to inspectors revealed that 57% of all recorded use of force involved black or ethnic minority prisoners, yet that group accounted for only 37% of the jail's population.

There had been instances of gang activity and after the death of an inmate, during the inspection, 36 prisoners were moved to other jails. Three men were later charged with the murder of Wayne Reid, 44, from Birmingham. Mr Reid was due to be released a few days after he died.

Monitoring North monitors treatment of people in custody. Its spokesperson, Ruggie Johnson, said the organisation had been inundated with calls from concerned relatives of men in Rye Hill.

"Mothers of young men have been telling us for months that their sons were not safe in that prison," he said. "It is clear that those in charge at Rye Hill are not capable of maintaining order and we call on the Home Office to hold an investigation into the allegations that have emerged from this report."

© The Guardian

"30% of Scots prisoners found on drugs at time of release" by Hamish MacDonell, The Scotsman

Almost one third of Scotland's prisoners are using drugs at the time of their release, according to figures issued yesterday.  

The SNP said the figures, which were published in a parliamentary written answer by Cathy Jamieson, the Justice Minister, showed the need for the Executive to do more to tackle the causes of crime.  

But the Scottish Prison Service defended its work in tackling drugs in prison, pointing out that four out of five prisoners tested positive for drug misuse when they arrived in jail.    

Mrs Jamieson's reply to the SNP back-bencher, Stewart Stevenson, was provided for the minister by Tony Cameron, the prison service's chief executive.

He said testing for drug use in prison indicated that fewer than 20 per cent of prisoners tested positive, but liberation testing last December suggested about 30 per cent were drug users on release.

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman, said: "These figures clearly show that prisons are not best equipped to treat the problem of drug addiction."

He said rehabilitation, rather than prison, was needed in cases where petty offending was caused by a drugs problem.

"It makes little sense to leave a prisoner's drug problem untreated," he said.

"This will merely lock the offender into a cycle of offending and addiction that will not be broken until the root cause of the criminal behaviour - the drug addiction - is addressed. These offenders should be rehabilitated, and it is clear from these figures that prisons are not always able to do so."

However, the Executive said the "vast majority" of prisoners had a drug problem when they entered prison. The prison service had a range of projects to deal with this, but the high level of addiction reflected a problem for society, it said.

A spokeswoman said: "There is no suggestion that drugs are tolerated in prison - far from it." She said measures now going through parliament in the Management of Offenders Bill would seek to join up anti-drug measures within prison and the wider community.

A spokeswoman for the prisons' service said: "We take the issue of drugs very seriously. Out of every five prisoners arriving at our doors, four are testing positive for some sort of drug misuse.

"That goes down to 30 per cent on release, and that means we are tackling 50 per cent. It is an improvement, but we take it very seriously and intend to get it down further."

The figures were released the same day the Executive launched a hard-hitting advertising campaign on the dangers of smoking heroin.

The Executive move follows a major study into the deaths of 317 Scots in 2003 which found that relatively simple steps may have saved some of those lives.

Hugh Henry, the deputy justice minister, said the TV adverts would challenge the false notion of "heroin chic" and the idea that a heroin habit could be managed, particularly if the drug was smoked rather than injected.

© The Scotsman

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