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Ebulletin #37

30th August 2006

VOICES RISING - Volume 4, Number 8

"Rethinking the War on Drugs" conference a huge success

Over 100 people attended the conference "Rethinking the War on Drugs", organised by IPRT, Merchants Quay Ireland and UISCE.  The standing room only crowd included elected representatives, as well as members of the police, probation and prison services, health, drugs and HIV/AIDS services and the general public.

Keynote speaker, former US Police Chief Jerry Cameron of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), spoke about the failure of prohibition to reduce drug consumption, and the numerous harmful effects criminalisation has caused for society.  He encouraged Ireland to avoid falling into lock-step with the failed US policy, and to instead seek creative solutions to drugs based upon legalisation and increased health services.

Other speakers included Rick Lines, Executive Director of the IPRT, and Ruairdhri McAuliffe Coordinator of the Union for Improved Communication, Services and Education (UISCE). The event was chaired by Tony Geoghegan, Director of Merchants Quay Ireland: Homeless and Drugs Services, where the conference was held.

Jerry Cameron's visit dominated the news for two days.  The conference was covered by major television and radio outlets on the day of the event, and in every daily Irish newspaper the day afterwards.

We hope that this will be only the first part in an ongoing campaign to inject a dose of critical thinking into current drug policy debates, and to press for alternatives to criminalisation that focus on evidence, human right and health. 

"Top US cop slams drugs policy" by David Lynch, Daily Ireland

The US "war on drugs" is a complete failure and should not be replicated in the Republic, a US police veteran warned yesterday.

A former experienced US chief of police, Jerry Cameron, told a seminar on drugs in Dublin that prohibition does not work.

Mr Cameron a spokesperson for the US organisation Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Leap) believes the "war on drugs" is being lost.
"You cannot arrest your way out of this problem," said Mr Cameron.

"Since the war was launched under President Richard Nixon 40 years ago it has not worked."

Mr Cameron said the tough policy had led to thousand more in jail. However drugs were cheaper and more freely available in the US than in the early 1970s. Mr Cameron has decades of experience at various ranks of the US police force.

"The world drugs industry is worth $500 billion (£263 billion; €390 billion) a year. That is an industry of such a size that it is almost challenging the petroleum one," said Mr Cameron.

"Just think that whole industry is in the hands of criminals and it is not regulated. The current policy is just not working."

Mr Cameron was speaking at the packed event organised by Merchant Quay Ireland, Irish Penal Trust and the Union for Improved Services Communication an Education (UISCE).

The conference heard criticism of justice minister Michael McDowell's plans to build more so called "superprisons" in Ireland.

Rick Lines from the Irish Penal Reform Trust said the emphasis was on criminal justice rather than human rights when the state deals with drug users.

He called on politicians to seriously debate the issues involved.

"By any measurable indicator, the international war on drugs that has been waged over the past 30 years is a failure," he said.

Ruadhri McAuliffe from Uisce said the debate needed to move on "from the easy linear argument between prohibition and decriminalisation".

"We should have a mature debate about how we are going to deal with this," he said.

He also said drug use was a "convenient excuse" for many of society's problems.

"We often hear that a community is destroyed by drugs, but some of these communities were destroyed already," he said.

"I wonder if drug use took off in one of the more affluent areas of Dublin, would that community be destroyed? I do not think so.

"When the government declares a war on drugs it is effectively declaring was on its citizens," the activist said.

Former minister for drugs, Dublin MEP Fianna Fáil Eoin Ryan, spoke from the floor of the conference attended by Daily Ireland.

He said no politicians would decriminalise cannabis in Ireland because of the evidence that usage can lead to cancer.

He said the Republic would fear compensation claims like the ones currently been lodged with the tobacco industry from cigarette users who have developed lung cancer.

(c) Daily Ireland 

"Penal Trust echoes demand to shut St Pat's" by Stephen Rogers, Irish Examiner

Young offenders housed in St Patrick's Institution risk serious harm if it is not closed down and the Government fails to reform the juvenile justice system, it was warned last night.

Dr Ursula Kilkelly of the Irish Penal Reform Trust yesterday echoed claims by the Irish Prisons Inspector Dermot Kinlen that St Patrick's Institution is merely a stepping stone to Mountjoy.

"They go in there and come out with bigger problems," she said.

"It is not a place that is rehabilitating in any sense of the word."

She criticised the fact that young people who have committed serious crimes are housed among those who have committed less serious crimes and also that juveniles are housed with adults at the facility.

"The Government does not seem to care that it is breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by housing children and adults in the same facility," she said. It is coming before a UN committee in Geneva in September. We submitted information to the commission on this."

Dr Kilkelly, a senior law lecturer at University College Cork, demanded the Government stop delaying in bringing in more meaningful measures for young offenders.

She said the fact that the current facility was the only option for young offenders around the country was a serious risk to the rights of young people. She said the Government needs to act much quicker before there is serious harm caused to the young people.

"The Government will say there are plans being developed, but it is just not happening quickly enough. Reforms are afoot, but there is just no indication that it is being taken seriously and it should be in light of the inspector's fourth report on this.

"His role should be made statutory. At present even the ombudsman for children has no power to act for children in the prison system, leaving them with no independent source to whom they can express concerns for their own safety."

The Government is next Monday to introduce a series of measures to ensure that children from disadvantaged areas do not become involved in crime.

Minister for Children Brian Lenihan is drawing up the legislation which will involve early intervention with the children.

Among the aims will be to regulate the public guardian service for children who come before the courts.

Under the current system a guardian is appointed solely at the discretion of a presiding judge and the child involved has no automatic right to assistance.

In a scathing attack on St Patrick's, Mr Kinlen called for the institution to be closed. Opened in 1958, the institution is housed in buildings dating back to 1850.

Mr Kinlen in documenting his findings wrote: "The place was a training ground for criminality.

"Young men aged 17 to 21 were locked up in practical terms for 17 to 18 hours per day.

"Then they have access to dreary yards, inadequate schooling and no workshops at all. There used to be 18 different workshops 20 years earlier."

(c) Irish Examiner 

Irish Examiner Opinion Piece: "Prisoner Protection"

Under the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, the State has the legal obligation to protect the lives and safety of those it holds in custody.   

It must take effective operational measures to safeguard and actively protect the lives of prisoners, particularly those at risk, and where it fails in this regard it must conduct an independent, timely and effective enquiry with the involvement of the victim's family in order to establish accountability for the prisoner's death.

Although the full story of what happened in Mountjoy Prison on Monday night has yet to be told, the circumstances of the death of Gary Douch raise significant questions about whether or not the State has done or is doing enough to meet these obligations.

Indeed, the more information is released, the more compelling the issues raised by the European Court in Edwards v UK are here in Ireland. In November 1994, Christopher Edwards was beaten to death in Chelmsford Prison in the UK.  His killer was Richard Linford, a man with whom he had been placed in a cell earlier that day. 

Mr. Linford, later described as "acutely mentally ill" with a history of violent outbursts and assaults, was placed in a common prison cell due to an inadequate mental health screening process at the prison, and the failure to of various mental health and prison agencies to share records.  The result was an avoidable tragedy.

The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Edwards v UK found that the British Government had violated Mr. Edward's right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This judgment is essential reading when considering the gruesome killing of Gary Douch in Mountjoy Prison.

Some of the questions that need to be answered in this context are:

  • Why, after specifically requesting protection, was Mr. Douch placed in an overcrowded holding cell?  
  • Does such a placement in fact constitute protective custody in either a legal or practical sense?
  • Why was there apparently no monitoring or supervision by prison staff during the time he was being assaulted, a period which some speculate lasted an hour, that might have prevented his death?
  • Why was the person who has been accused of this crime placed in that overcrowded holding cell to begin with?

It has been suggested that the individual in question has a history of severe mental illness.  Whether or not he committed this offence, placing such a person in a crowded prison cell, rather than a secure hospital setting, created an avoidable risk to himself, other prisoners and prison staff.

Also significant is the question of whether we will ever receive real answers to what took place on Monday.  Justice Minister McDowell has appointed a senior civil servant from the Department of Justice to "independently" investigate the incident on behalf of the Government. 

Ireland's obligations under the European Convention to investigate deaths in State custody left the Minister with no option but to establish and independent and prompt inquiry. 

However, does the appointment of a single Department of Justice official to undertake this task truly merit the "independent" characterisation it has received in some press reports?  Surely, a truly independent inquiry, by definition, must include investigators who are not part of the bureaucracy and ethos of the prison service and the Department of Justice.

Indeed, there is an obvious conflict of interest in having the Department of Justice conduct what is essentially an investigation of itself.  From the perspective of the European Court of Human Rights, an "independent" investigation means that the person(s) conducting it have no hierarchical or institutional connection to, and have practical independence from, the State body being investigated. It should also have the power to compel witnesses, and be open to scrutiny both from the public and from the victim's family. 

An "in-house" investigation by a Department of Justice official, reporting directly to the Minister who will then decide what and what not to publicly release, clearly falls short of this threshold.

It is already apparent that some quarters are hoping to spin these tragic events into a rationale to support the Minister's controversial plans to build a massive super-prison in north Co. Dublin.   

A truly independent investigation is therefore essential not only to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated, but also to instil confidence that the recommendations that emerge are intended only to improve prison safety and protect the rights of people in prison, not to justify existing or proposed Government policy.

Unless the fundamental organisational and cultural problems within the prison system exposed by Monday's events are addressed, building a new super-prison will do nothing to prevent another such tragedy from being repeated, and will in fact make it likely to happen again.

For example, building a new prison will do nothing to address the central issue of mental health in prisons. As highlighted in a major report only last week, Irish prisons have become warehouses for people with mental illness. While incarcerating people in a more modern facility would certainly alleviate some of the more Dickensian aspects of life in Mountjoy, it will do nothing to address the fundamental issue of mental illness and prison. 

In fact, it is likely that the number of mentally ill prisoners will increase proportionally to fill the proposed new prison spaces.

Building bigger prisons also does not solve problems of neglect, mental decline and violence.  One need only look at the super-prisons of the United Kingdom and the United States to see that when it comes to prisons bigger is not better, safer, healthier or more effective.

Nor, despite claims to the contrary, would the super-prison address the issue of overcrowding.

While the Minister claims we require another 800-1000 prison spaces, the real reason Mountjoy and other prisons are overcrowded is not due to lack of spaces.

The root of the problem is our high rate of committals, which sees Ireland drastically overuse prison as a response to offending by European standards.  Experience in other countries shows that rather than solving overcrowding, extra prison spaces are quickly filled leading to further expansionism.

Given that 80% of committals in Ireland are for prison terms of one year or less, reducing the number of short terms sentences of imprisonment would be a much more sensible way to free up space within the current prison estate.

Christopher Edwards was not killed in an overcrowded cell in a Dickensian institution.  He was killed in a cell housing only one other prisoner, in a prison more modern that Mountjoy.  This clearly illustrates that modernising the surroundings, without addressing the fundamental underlying policy problems, will do little to prevent the kind of events witnessed on Monday night.

The death of Gary Douch is a tragedy for all involved - his family, his friends, his fellow prisoners, and the prison staff in Mountjoy.  Only through an open and truly independent investigation of these events, and a commitment to addressing their root causes, will we have hope to avoiding future such tragedies.

Rick Lines is the Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust. With thanks to Claire Hamilton and Dr. Ursula Kilkelly.

(c) Irish Examiner 

Conference Presentation: "Injecting Reason: Prison Syringe Exchange and the European Convention on Human Rights"

Presentation by IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines given at the XVI International Conference on AIDS in Toronto, Canada in August.

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

New reports on Irish prisons available on iprt.ie

New resources now available on the IPRT website include the 4th Annual Report of the Prison Inspector, as well as the Inspector's 2005-06 Report on Cloverhill Prison.

Also new on our website are the 2005 reports of the Prison Visiting Committees.  These may be found by using the search engine. 

New UN/WHO Framework to address HIV/AIDS in Prisons

In August, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS released a new international policy to addressHIV/AIDS in prisons. HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support in Prison Settings: A Framework for an Effective National Response was co-authored last year by IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines.

The purpose of this document is to provide a Framework for mounting an effective national response to HIV/AIDS in prisons that meets international health and human rights standards, prioritizes public health, is grounded in best practice, and supports the management of custodial institutions.

The Framework sets out a series of 11 principles and 100 actions for the treatment of prisoners and the management of prisons with the objectives of

1. Providing prisoners with prevention, care, treatment, and support for HIV/AIDS that is equivalent to that available to people in the community outside of prison.

2. Preventing the spread of HIV (and other infections) among prisoners, to prison staff, and to the broader community;

3. Promoting an integrated approach to healthcare within prisons to tackle wider public health issues, both through improvements in health care in general and through improvements in general prison conditions and management.

It also suggests concrete strategies for implementing the Framework at the national level.