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Ebulletin #36

28th July 2006

VOICES RISING - Volume 4, Number 7

Rethinking the War on Drugs - A Public Forum

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Merchants Quay Ireland and the Union for Improved Services, Communication and Education (UISCE) present a free public forum entitled "Rethinking the War on Drugs" on Monday 28th August.

Our main speaker will be Jerry Cameron. A seventeen-year police veteran, Mr. Cameron is a former U.S. Chief of Police as well as a former full time faculty member of the Institute of Police Technology and Management at the University of North Florida where he taught drug interdiction. Toward the end of his career, he began to question the efficacy as well as the morality of the war on drugs, eventually coming to the conclusion that it was a not only a total failure but that it was causing tremendous damage to society.

Today Mr. Cameron is a spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a North American group made up of current and former members of law enforcement who believe the existing drug policies have failed in their intended goals of addressing the problems of crime, drug use, addiction, juvenile drug use, stopping the flow of illegal drugs  and the internal sale and use of illegal drugs. By fighting a war on drugs, LEAP believes, governments increase the problems of society and made them far worse.

Also speaking at Rethinking the War on Drugs will be

  • Rick Lines, Executive Director of the IPRT
  • Ruardhri McAuliffe, Coordinator of UISCE
  • The panel will be chaired by Tony Geoghegan, Director of Merchants Quay Ireland

This free public lecture will be held at

Merchants Quay Ireland

4 Merchants Quay, Dublin 8

Registration, tea and coffee will begin at 9:30 and the event will start promptly at 10:30 and finish around 12noon.

For more information, or to pre-register, contact info@iprt.ie

IPRT holds advocacy training at Irish Centre for Human Rights

On July 14, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines co-facilitated a one-day series of advocacy training workshops at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway

Entitled "Ploughing the Ground: Making Change Happen through Effective Advocacy", the seminar explored effective strategies for human rights campaigning and lobbying.  Included in the seminar were workshops on advocacy basics, using the meda, lobbying the in Dail and building effective coalitions.

Our thanks to the Irish Centre for Human Rights for supporting the initiative. 

Letter to the Editor, Irish Independent: "Prison lesson from Spain"

Tom Brady writes of the recent excursion by representatives of the Irish Prison Service to visit penitentiaries in Spain (Irish Independent, July 12). He reports that, "The visiting officials focused in particular on the perimeter of the Madrid jail, internal security and plans that are being implemented to prevent drugs being smuggled into the prison."

I toured Spanish prisons and met with prison officials in 2003 while researching an international report on prison drug and HIV policy. I have to wonder whether the purpose of the Irish delegation was truly to learn from the Spanish prison service's approach to drug use, or simply to cherry pick individual programmes in an attempt to justify the Government's own policies.

The simple fact is that the Spanish experience is the clearest refutation of Justice Minister McDowell's approach to drugs in prison. Indeed, the Spanish policy is the polar opposite of that espoused by Mr McDowell.

I wonder, for example, whether the Irish delegation will tell the Minister that, despite the security features noted above, drug use is still very high in Spanish prisons.

I wonder whether they will report to him that the response of the Spanish Government has not been to hide behind silly and self-serving "drug free prisons" rhetoric, but instead to take pragmatic action rooted in international best practice and public health principles.

I wonder if the Irish delegation will report that Spanish prisons boast the most extensive and advanced prison syringe exchange programmes in the world. That they have resulted in a significant decrease in the HIV infection rate among prisoners. That they have increased the uptake of drug treatment programmes by prisoners. That they have been successfully implemented with no safety or security risk to staff.

In short, the Spanish experience is proof positive that all the things Mr McDowell claims can be done in prisons cannot, and the things he claims cannot be done in fact can.

The Irish prison system is crying out for the type of sensible, evidence-based and holistic approach to drug policy implemented in Spain. Given the extent of the problem here, one can only hope the Irish delegation is returning from Madrid with something more valuable than a suntan.

Rick Lines, Executive Director, IPRT

Letter to the Editor, Irish Examiner: "Conflicting figures on super-prison costs"

Fergus Finlay's excellent column (Irish Examiner, July 4) exposing the bloated and unaccountable costs of Michael McDowell's super-prison plan has provoked some interesting responses from officialdom.

On July 10, the minister issued a press release claiming the annual cost per prisoner in the new super-prison would be €30,000 a year less than the current Prison Service average cited by Mr Finlay.

What does the Prison Service have to say about that? On the day after the minister's press release, the Prison Service press officer stated in a letter to the Irish Examiner that the savings would be more like €20,000 per prisoner.

Such a massive discrepancy hardly instils confidence that either estimate is anything more sophisticated than a hurried 'back of the envelope' exercise in damage control after the publication of Mr Finlay's devastating column.

Indeed, to read both the ministerial and Prison Service responses, one would be left with the impression that their alleged cost of €70,000 per year to lock up someone is some sort of bargain rather than nearly double that of England, Wales or Scotland (according to figures provided by the minister himself in the Dáil in 2003).

When more than 80% of Irish prisoners are sent to jail for one year or less - the vast majority of them for non-violent offences - there could be no stronger argument in support of Mr Finlay's conclusion that "any sense of perspective on this issue ought surely to require us to think long and hard about whether and why we need super-jails".

Rick Lines
Executive Director
Irish Penal Reform Trust

Conference Presentation: "A Duty to Protect: Prisoners' Rights to Health in International Human Rights Law"

Plenary presentation by IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines given at the conference International Prisoner Health Conference: Achieving International Standards in Prison Health Care in Tallinn, Estonia.

This presentation was done with the support of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

NEW RESOURCE: Annotated bibliography on HIV/AIDS and HCV in Prisons

The newly published HIV/AIDS and HCV in Prisons: A Select Annotated Bibliography has now become available online. The bibliography was prepared for Health Canada.

This document is the most comprehensive research tool available on this topic, and is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking the most relevant documentation on HIV, HCV and drug use in prisons.

The goal of the document is to promote effective responses, based on scientific evidence and respect for human rights, to the issues raised by HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C (HCV) in prison.

The objectives are

  • to increase knowledge of and access to the literature on issues related to HIV/AIDS and HCV in prisons; and
  • to increase the capacity of governments, non-governmental organizations, and researchers to respond effectively to the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS and HCV in prisons
The bibliography did not aim to include all documents ever published on HIV/AIDS and/or HCV in prisons - there simply are too many, some are outdated, while others are very difficult to access. Instead, the author undertook an extensive search of the literature and then selected the most relevant materials according to a set of criteria, including: scope of the material (local, regional, national, or international), date of publication, topic(s) covered, whether the material is accessible, and relevance of the document. The aim was to include those publications that are most relevant in a large number of areas, ranging from prevalence of HIV, HCV, and risk behaviours, to a variety of prevention measures, to HIV and HCV treatment, drug dependence treatment, and legal and ethical issues.

"The Punitiveness Report -- HARD HIT: The Growth in Imprisonment of Women, 1977-2004"

A new report commissioned by the Institute on Women & Criminal Justice finds that female imprisonment in the U.S. has skyrocketed 757 percent since 1977. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, surpassing male prison population growth in all 50 states. These trends have profound consequences for communities, families and the women themselves. The report finds that the rise in the female prison population has been punctuated by growth spikes that reached higher, lasted longer and often began earlier than those affecting men. The pace of growth has fallen since 2000, but the rate at which women are added to prison each year remains high.

"The Punitiveness Report-HARD HIT: The Growth in Imprisonment of Women, 1977-2004" takes an in-depth look at female prison population growth patterns and regional trends, and it provides the first state-by-state analysis of female imprisonment from 1977 to 2004, with findings from all 50 states. The report was authored by Dr. Natasha Frost, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, and Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis of Justice Strategies.

"Women prisoner numbers up a third" by Michael Howie, The Scotsman

Scottish ministers have failed to meet pledges to cut the number of women in prison according to new figures which reveal a one-third rise in the female jail population in the last five years.

In May 2002, there were 273 women behind bars. The figure rose to 318 last year and 365 in May this year.

Most are jailed for short sentences for non-violent crimes - many simply for not paying fines - and have suffered a history of violence and abuse. The majority also have mental health problems and are addicted to drugs.

Scotland's political leaders promised action to reduce the number of women behind bars following a spate of suicides at Cornton Vale, Scotland's only dedicated women's prison, in the late 1990s.

The new figures were published today by the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice. Baroness Vivien Stern, convener of the think-tank, accused Executive ministers of "failing to meet their commitment" to tackle the problem and called for more appropriate community sentences for women offenders to steer vulnerable females away from jail.

She said: "The number of women in prison in Scotland is rising in spite of wide agreement that policies should be in place that reduce it. This inappropriate use of prison for women benefits neither society, the women nor their families."

Baroness Stern, one of the UK's leading experts on prisons, praised work to improve Cornton Vale, which has seen new mother-and-baby facilities created, describing it as a "model prison". But she called for dedicated female offender support services - currently provided only by the 218 Centre in Glasgow - to be rolled out across the country.

Susan Mathieson, director of SACRO, which runs services for women offenders, said:

"Most women in jail have damaged backgrounds and need intensive support. I would support suspended sentences so children can reach a certain age before they have their mother taken away."

In his last report on Cornton Vale, Dr Andrew McClellan, Scotland's Chief Inspector of Prisons, found that 98 per cent of inmates had drugs problems, 80 per cent had mental health issues and 75 per cent had a history of abuse and "very poor" physical health.

In 2004-5, 442 women were jailed for failing to pay a fine. At present there are 24 women in prison for fine-defaulting. The average cost per inmate place last year was £32,685 and it is understood the costs for female inmates are near the top of the scale.

A spokesman for the prison service said: "Many of the women in Cornton Vale come from troubled backgrounds.There is a range of people there you might say shouldn't be in prison. But the prison service has to take whoever the court sends to us. This is a matter for the politicians."

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "We want to see the number of women in prison fall - that is why a number of disposals have programmes focused on the needs of women." She added that pilot schemes for the mandatory use of supervision orders instead of jail had also been introduced for people who default on fines up to £500.

(c) The Scotsman 

"Prison population hits new record" by Alan Travis, The Guardian

The prison population in England and Wales hit a record high yesterday of 77,865, giving ministers little hope of implementing the Mubarek inquiry's key recommendation that the enforced sharing of single cells should come to an end.

About 41% of prisoners currently have to share a cell built for single occupancy - known as "doubling up" - and, even taking account of the 10% of inmates who prefer to share, it would still cost more than £2bn to implement Mr Justice Keith's recommendation.

The home secretary, John Reid, did however say he would be accepting, in principle at least, 50 of the 88 recommendations put forward by the inquiry.

They include official recognition of the concept of "institutional religious intolerance" - similar to the "institutional racism" adopted by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry into the police.

The home secretary said Mr Justice Keith's inquiry was the "most thorough examination" of the investigations that have been carried out into Zahid Mubarek's death and said it added much to the background knowledge of the murder.

He welcomed the report's recognition that much progress has been made by the Prison Service in the last six years to address the problems that may have contributed to Zahid Mubarek's murder.

"I am particularly pleased to note that the report finds that the allegations that prison officers maliciously placed ethnic minority prisoners in cells with known racists are not substantiated."

He said the inquiry's recommendations would be considered "urgently and carefully" and a full response would follow within two months. At this stage changes in prison practice will not apply to privately run prisons, but only to those in the public sector.

The record prison population leaves the Prison Service only 1,600 places short of capacity. Jail numbers have risen by 154 in the last week alone and the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, has predicted prisons will "hit the buffers" by September.

Phil Wheatley, the director general of the Prison Service, said he was continuing to investigate the options for providing further increases in capacity in addition to the 900 extra places already planned for next year. Two women's prisons have already been switched to male-only jails to cope with the numbers.

(c) The Guardian 

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