IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Ebulletin #31

28th February 2006

VOICES RISING - Volume 4, Number 2

IPRT to hold briefing on Immigration Detention for TDs and Senators

On March 9th, the IPRT, Irish Refugee Council and Immigrant Council of Ireland will be holding a briefing session in the Oireachtas on the use on immigration-related detention in Ireland.  The briefing for TDs and Senators will focus on the findings and recommendations of the Immigrationrelated Detention Reporton this issue commissioned jointly by the three organisations and prepared by Mark Kelly of Human Rights Consultants.

The briefing session has been organised with the help of long-time IPRT supporter, Senator Mary Henry.

IPRT prepares briefing report for CPT

In February, the IPRT prepared a report for the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in advance of the CPT's 2006 visit to places of detention in Ireland.

The purpose of the IPRT's submission is to highlight our key concerns regarding the treatment of prisoners and detainees in the State, and to encourage the CPT to review these issues during its visit.

The IPRT report will be published online following the CPT's visit. 

PPPrison Reform???

This month's announcement that the new prison complex to replace Mountjoy will be built under a Public Private Parnership (PPP) ushers in the era of prisons-for-profit in Ireland.

According to a report in the Irish Times, the new prison will house at least 1,200 prisoners and "will be designed to allow for its easy extension in the future".

The Government has called for tenders from private companies to design, build, finance and maintain the new facility. The contract with the private firm chosen will run for up to 35 years.

Government enthusiasm for PPPs stems from the dubious claim that such projects are cheaper to the state.  However, the 2004 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General estimated the cost of PPP schools in Ireland to be 8-13% more expensive than traditional funding methods.  The Government wrongly predicted that the use of PPP would result in a 6% savings. 

Yet despite this track record - and the failure to provide any evidence in support of its privatisation scheme - the Government plans to roll out Ireland's first for-profit prison in 2010.

Press Release: "International Celebrities Condemn Torture through Solitary Confinement of Mentally Ill American Prisoners"

New York, NY (February 1, 2006) - Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement, a coalition of over 65 organizations, including Community Access, Human Rights Watch, and the Urban Justice Center, has issued statements from Maya Angelou, Margot Kidder, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Andrew Solomon, and Alvin F. Poussaint, MD denouncing the inhumane practice of placing prisoners with psychiatric disabilities into solitary confinement.

This outcry surfaces in conjunction with the unanimous January 10th Supreme Court decision, United States v. Georgia, No. 04-1203, which held that under the American With Disabilities Act, the State of Georgia lacks immunity from a lawsuit brought by a disabled prisoner, Tony Goodman; and the December 30th signing into law of the McCain Amendment, prohibiting cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody.

Vuka Stricevic, Director of Public Policy at Community Access, stated,
"We are delighted that these outspoken celebrities have given their
support of the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement
coalition's efforts to stop the torture of prisoners with psychiatric
disabilities currently being inhumanely housed in solitary confinement
cells. Irreconcilable with the Americans With Disabilities Act, allowing
prisoners with psychiatric disabilities to be sentenced to solitary
confinement is an egregious practice that results in sensory
deprivation, severe mental decompensation, and oftentimes suicide." Ms. Stricevic is available with background information and personal stories for reporters.

Margot Kidder, actress and political activist:

"Putting mentally ill and possibly delusional prisoners in solitary
confinement is torture, no more, no less.  We were all shocked and
shamed by the disgustingly inhumane treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq.  Should we not be equally shocked by the disgustingly inhumane torture of mentally ill prisoners here at home?"

Maya Angelou, best-selling author of "Amazing Peace:  A Christmas Poem" and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings":

"The mentally ill are already alone.  They live in a world that is broken, terrorized and desperately alone.  Putting such people who are already shattered into solitary confinement is unnecessary cruelty.  It is the rust on the razor which threatens the throat.  They need health, at best and human company at least."

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W. E. B. DuBois Institute for
African and African American Research; Chair of Harvard University
Department of African and African American Studies:

"[The solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners is] a horrific problem, where life itself becomes a grueling punishment and too often an unbearable torture."

Andrew Solomon, author of best-selling National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist "The Noonday Demon:  An Atlas of Depression;" board member of the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign:

"There are few practices in modern American that are more barbaric than our jailing of people who suffer from mental illness, many of whom do not receive appropriate clinical interventions, do not have the control of their illness that such interventions might enable, and are left desperate and incoherent to the worst of prison abuses.

Mental illness and the regimented life of prison do not sit comfortably
together.  Prisoners with mental illness will be seen as aggressive,
troubled, and inchoate.  These qualities are frustrating to the guards
whose duty it is to monitor such prisoners.  They result in ever-stronger disciplinary measures.  This is horrible for all concerned.  Treating such prisoners for their mental health complaints would improve the quality of their lives; of the lives of other prisoners; and of the lives of the guards.  It would also be humane and decent.

It would be horrible to have an overpowering psychological impetus to
commit criminal acts; there is no need to compound that horror with
solitary confinement, a state that would drive even the most sane among us close to the edge."

Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston; Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; co-author of "Lay My Burden Down:  Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans":

"Solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners is archaic and only aggravates difficulties for all concerned.  Psychotic and paranoid inmates become more psychotic and paranoid when placed in solitary.
Individuals with major depression will deteriorate with a greater likelihood of become suicidal.  For the mentally ill, their condition often precludes comprehending the purpose of such confinement in the first place.  Frequently, the disturbing behavior leading to placement in solitary confinement is a manifestation of mental disorder and not a
willful disobedience toward authority.  Psychiatric management is more likely to lead to improved behavior than the use of harsh punishment.

To help inmates, we must begin to provide quality mental health services within our neglected so-called houses of correction.  Mental health care is critical to facilitating prisoners' successful reentry to society.

In addition, inmates need appropriate follow-up services to ease
adaptation to the outside world.

Placing inmates with mental illnesses in solitary confinement is inhumane, representing the antithesis of good mental health and
treatment practices."

"Children caged alone for weeks" by Jamie Doward, The Observer

Hundreds of children in young offenders' institutions are being held in solitary confinement, often for weeks at a time, in what prison reform campaigners claim is a 'medieval' form of punishment.

The practice will be highlighted this week when an independent inquiry, conducted by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, delivers what is expected to be a damning assessment of the way the 2,700 children in Britain's penal system are treated.

Carlile's report, to be published on Friday, will focus on three main areas: physical restraint, forcible strip searching and solitary confinement.

The inquiry found that, between April and September last year, 125 children were isolated for up to seven days at Lancaster Farms young offenders' institution in Blackburn. Last January 16-year-old Gareth Price died while being held in the segregation unit. At Stoke Heath in Shropshire, children were placed in solitary confinement for up to seven days on 73 occasions. Eighteen of these were held for between seven and 28 days and four for more than 28 days.

The Youth Justice Board, which monitors the treatment of children in prison, stipulates that solitary confinement cannot be used as a punishment under any circumstances. Last week it issued new guidance for managing the behaviour of children in prisons.

'We have monitors who visit these institutions and any incident of separation is recorded,' a spokeswoman said, adding that a young offender could only be placed in a segregation unit if they were a threat to others or themselves. The Carlile report is expected to provide examples where some institutions have used solitary confinement as a punishment.

'Children are placed in cells built for adults that are stone cold with no radios or televisions,' said Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. 'Most of these kids can't read, so they have nothing to do. If it rains and they miss their exercise period, they're in there all day. It's like putting them in a dungeon. It's medieval. The children are told if they behave they will be allowed out. But they don't know how to control themselves, that's why they're in prison in the first place.'

Chris Callender, a lawyer with the Howard League, who has taken legal action against a number of institutions for placing children in solitary confinement, said that segregation was often used because prisoners had been wrongly assessed. 'My experience is that there are a lot of kids finding themselves in segregations units because they haven't received sufficient mental health support,' he said. 'They should be receiving psychiatric support, not prison.'

The Carlile inquiry was established after 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died while being restrained by officers in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire in April 2004. An inquest has yet to be held.

(c) The Observer UK