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Ebulletin #27

2nd November 2005

VOICES RISING - Volume 3, Number 10

"End Use of Prisons for Immigration Purposes" says new report

A new report to be published today calls for sweeping changes in the use of immigration-related detention in Ireland.  The independent report - published jointly by the Irish Refugee Council, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Penal Reform Trust - examines current legislation, policy and practice and benchmarks it against international human rights standards.

The report, entitled Immigrationrelated Detention Report, was prepared by Mark Kelly, Director of Human Rights Consultants in Dublin.  It will be launched at 2pm today at European Union House, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2.

Until recently, it was comparatively rare for people to be detained for immigration-related reasons in Ireland. However, a range of statutory detention powers have been introduced to authorise the detention of people for various immigration-related reasons.  Official figures published for the first time in this report show that, in 2003-2004, a total of 2,798 people were held in prison for immigration-related reasons. In 2004, some two thirds of those detained were held in prison for periods of longer than 51 days.

"We commissioned this research due to an increasing number of queries relating to people detained for immigration-related reasons," said Peter O'Mahony of the Irish Refugee Council.  "We were also concerned that there was a general lack of clarity and knowledge on the rights and entitlements of those detained, the legal basis for their detention and their treatment during the period of detention.  This report examines for the first time these issues in detail and makes recommendations to bring Irish legislation and practice in line with international standards."

"People can be detained for immigration reasons without being charged with any criminal offence.  They are a particularly disadvantaged group, who are away from the public eye and may not have access to services available for other immigrants," said Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council of Ireland. "They may not be made aware of their rights and entitlements or may be unable to exercise them because of language and/or literacy difficulties or problems due to cultural differences. These issues are often compounded for detainees who are not entitled to legal aid."

Over 90% of people detained for immigration-related reasons are held in one of two prisons in Dublin: Cloverhill Prison and the Dóchas Centre at Mountjoy Prison.  The report's author carried out private interviews with immigration-related detainees in both establishments, and examined their living conditions.  He found that  immigration detainees are being kept in overcrowded conditions, together with people suspected and / or convicted of criminal offences.

"The findings of this independent research report serve to confirm that prisons are, by definition, inappropriate places in which to hold immigration detainees," said Claire Hamilton, Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust. "Our organisations believe that the practice of holding immigration detainees in prisons in Ireland must be brought to an end."

IPRT to assist African prison officials develop HIV/AIDS policy

In November, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines will travel to Nairobi, Kenya at the invitation of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Mr. Lines will work with prison officials from Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritus, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to assist them in developing HIV prevention programmes for prisoners who use drugs.

Earlier this year the IPRT worked with the UNODC in Vienna on drafting global policy on HIV prevention in prisons.

IPRT attends WHO Meeting on Health in Prisons

In October, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines represented the organisation at the 10th annual meeting of the World Health Organisation's European Network on Health in Prisons.  The meeting was held in London and was attended by prison officials, health experts and NGO representatives from across the Council of Europe. 

At the meeting, special presentations were made on the issues of drug treatment/harm reduction in prisons, tuberculosis prevention and treatment and mental health care.

"UK prisoners should get vote, European court rules" by Simon Jeffery, The Guardian

Laws setting out who can and cannot take part in elections are to be rewritten after the European court of human rights today ruled in favour of giving British prisoners the right to vote. Ruling in the case of a former prisoner against the United Kingdom, the Strasbourg court said the disenfranchisement of 48,000 convicts in British jails violated the European convention on human rights.   It said that with the exception of the right to liberty, lawfully detained prisoners continued to enjoy all the rights guaranteed in the convention - including political rights and freedom from inhumane and degrading punishment.

Britain is among 13 signatories to the human rights convention who prevent prisoners from voting, according to a government survey. The only exceptions in Britain are those in jail for non-payment of debts, contempt of court or on remand.   A further 14 signatories to the convention limit the right of prisoners to vote, while another 18 impose no restriction at all. The court's ruling could see prisoners across all states belonging to the 46-member Council of Europe, the court's parent body, given the right to vote.  

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the court's ruling confirmed "people are sent to prison to lose their liberty, not their identity or their citizenship".   Speaking for the Tories, the shadow attorney general, Dominic Grieve, said giving convicted murderers and rapists the vote would "bring the law into disrepute and many people will see it as making a mockery of justice".  

A spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said it was giving the judgment urgent consideration and would bring forward proposals in due course.  

The former prisoner who brought the challenge, John Hirst, 54, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after killing his landlady Bronia Burton with an axe.   He was sentenced to discretionary life imprisonment on February 11 1980 and released from Rye Hill prison, Warwickshire, on May 25 2004.  

After his application to vote from prison was turned down, Mr Hirst took his case to the high court and lost. A seven-judge chamber of the Strasbourg court backed him, ruling that blocking the right to vote was disproportionate, and awarded him £8,000 in costs and expenses.  

The government then appealed to a 17-judge "grand chamber" of the human rights court, arguing that Mr Hirst would be barred from voting even if the law was reformed to restrict the democratic rights of those who had committed only the most serious offences.  

Mr Hirst's lawyers argued that blocking the right to vote was inconsistent with the stated rehabilitative aim of prison and that there was no proven link between removal of the vote and prevention of crime.  

The court - on a majority ruling of 12-5 - said an article in the convention guaranteeing the "free expression of the opinion of the people in choosing a legislature" was not absolute but in a 21st century democracy the presumption should be in favour of inclusion.  

Two of the judges said in an additional written ruling that the ban was applied to those in prison but neglected that a judge's decision to send a defendant to prison or hand down a suspended sentence or fine could depend on his or her health, age and family situation and not just the gravity of the crime.  

Now living in Hull, Mr Hirst said his challenge had been about breaking the link between crime and the right to take part in the democratic process.  

"The human rights court has agreed with me that the government's position is wrong - it doesn't matter how heinous the crime, everyone is entitled to have the basic human right to vote."  

A bar on prisoners voting is made in the 1983 Representation of the People Act but the substance dates back to the 1870 Forfeiture Act, which in turn reflects earlier laws limiting the rights of criminals from the reign of Edward III.  

The five dissenters - Judges Wildhaber, Costa, Lorenzen, Kolver and Jebens - said in a joint written opinion that the Strasbourg court should be careful not to assume legislative functions. They said states should have the right to restrict voting based on nationality, age, residence and other factors.  

The court was set up in 1950 to hear citizens' complaints under the human rights convention and is independent of the European Union.  

© The Guardian

"Offenders who default on fines spared jail" by Michael Howie, The Scotsman

Thousands of offenders who fail to pay their fines will be spared jail under moves likely to be approved by ministers to tackle record prison numbers.

Pilot schemes running in Glasgow and Ayr have resulted in more than 700 offenders who defaulted on their fines in the last five months given community-based supervised attendance orders (SAOs) instead of the usual few days behind bars.

Most have a long list of previous convictions and began offending in their teenage years.

Sheriffs can currently either send someone who does not pay to prison or make them subject to an SAO, but in most cases a brief jail sentence is preferred.

But the pilot schemes make it mandatory for sheriffs to impose an SAO for anyone brought back to court for failing to pay fines under £500 imposed for "low tariff" crimes, such as breach of the peace, minor theft and road traffic offences.

The scheme's backers say jailing people for a few days for not paying their fine wastes money and fails to tackle their likelihood of reoffending or improve their employment prospects.

An average of 61 fine defaulters are in prison at any time, costing around £2 million a year.

Apex Scotland, which administers SAOs throughout the country and is behind the Glasgow pilot, said the scheme has been a success and insists it is not a "soft option".

Jim McArthur, the charity's Glasgow unit manager, said: "About 300 people have completed their orders and we've had around 50 positive outcomes, where we've got them into employment or further training.

"People might say it's a soft option but we are throwing responsibility at them. If they fail to make an appointment they have to give a good reason. They are given three warnings then brought back to court for a breach of the order."

Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, has pledged to introduce a raft of measures to reduce reoffending rates, with mandatory SAOs likely to feature in a new Summary Justice Bill to be introduced next year.

An Executive spokesman said: "Part of the Summary Justice Bill is to look at reducing the number of minor offenders sent to prison and supervised attendance orders are part of that process. We will see more of this type of project if the pilots evaluate well."

The extended use of SAOs for fine defaulters was welcomed by Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman, who said: "It is ridiculous that we are paying a fortune as taxpayers to lock up people at great cost who are no danger to society and who have only committed minor offences."

© The Scotsman