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Ebulletin #38

29th September 2006

VOICES RISING - Volume 4, Number 9

Throwing Good Money after Bad

Commenting on today's publication of the 2005 Annual Report of the Irish Prison Service, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) stated that the Report provides further evidence that the Government's superprison plans are both unnecessary and unjustifiable.  The group is calling upon the Government to abandon superprisons in favour of more cost effective non-custodial supervision programmes to deal with the non-violent, short term offenders that compromise the overwhelming majority of prison committals.

According to the IPRT, today's report demonstrates both the high cost of prisons, and the inappropriate use of incarceration for non-violent and petty offences.  Data provided in the Prison Service's Annual Report shows:

  • The annual cost of keeping a prisoner in custody is €90,900, nearly a 10% increase over last year's average of €83,800.
  • 85% of all commitals in 2005 were for non-violent offences. 
  • 90% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for non-violent offences.
  • 78% of all committals under sentence in 2005 were for 12 months or less.
  • 89% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for sentences of 12 months or less.
  • 39% of all committals under sentence in 2005 were for 3 months or less.
  • 55% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for sentences of 3 months or less.

"Incarceration is the most expensive respose available to offending," said Rick Lines, Executive Director of the IPRT. "While Minister McDowell often points to his success at addressing the issue of prison officer overtime, it is clear from today's figures that this has done nothing to halt the spiraling costs of prisons. Given this tremendous cost, and the poor record of Irish prisons at reducing reoffending, there is a clear basis for the Government to divert significant numbers of non-violent offenders sentenced to one year or less away from prisons as a first option."

The Penal Reform Trust has also rubbished attempts by the Prison Service to spin the Annual Report's findings into an excuse to justify the building of the Mountjoy superprison in north Co. Dublin. Today's press statement from the Prison Service claims that the new Mountjoy complex would reduce the annual cost per prisoner by €20,000 through the "economies of scale which can be achieved by locating 30% of Ireland's prison population on a single site."

"Given that the existing Mountjoy complex already houses 30% of the total prison population, one wonders what 'economies of scale' the Prison Service is referring to," said Mr. Lines.  "Moreover, it is only within the unscrutinised spending regimes found in the Department of Justice that €70,000 per year to incarcerate someone would be seen as a bargain. Indeed, the construction of the two proposed superprisons will increase the overall prisoner population by 800-1,000 persons, which means total spending on prisons will go up even if these claimed savings are realised."

"The Prison Service Report illustrates that the Government's rush to build superprisons is driven by politics rather than need, and is an utterly avoidable example of throwing good money after bad," he said.


Human Rights Groups call for urgent action to address human rights deficit in Irish prisons

In the wake of three deaths in Mountjoy Prison in August, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) are calling upon the Government to act immediately to bring Ireland's system of prison inspection and monitoring into line with European norms. The human rights organisations are highlighting four specific areas requiring action to ensure that Ireland becomes compliant with its obligations under international human rights law.

"The three deaths in Mountjoy over the past month are a tragic illustration of the urgent need for independent monitoring mechanisms in Irish prisons," said Rick Lines, Executive Director of the IPRT.

The organisations are calling for the immediate establishment of a fully independent investigation into the recent deaths at Mountjoy.  "An 'in-house' investigation by the Department of Justice cannot be said to be independent and fails to meet our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights," said Mr. Lines.

In addition, the IPRT and ICCL are calling upon the Government to bring forward legislation in the upcoming Dáil session to place Irish prison monitoring systems on a par with those in neighbouring jurisdictions.  This must include:

  1. Legislation to place the Inspector of Prisons on a fully independent and statutory footing, with sufficient human and financial resources to adequately monitor prison regimes.
  2. Legislation to create an Ombudsman for Prisons with the authority to accept and independently investigate individual complaints from prisoners.
  3. Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which would oblige the State to ensure that national monitoring of places of detention is effective and independent.
Mr. Mark Kelly, Director of the ICCL, recalled that "the prison systems in Northern Ireland, England & Wales and Scotland are subject to scrutiny by independent Prisons Ombudsmen, and by Inspectorates with clear statutory powers. In addition, the British Government has ratified the UN Optional Protocol.  In view of its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and international human rights law, Ireland cannot afford to be left behind." 

"Prison monitoring is essential to ensure that adequate minimum human rights standards are maintained in prisons and other places of detention.  It also serves as the eyes and ears of the public, and is critical for ensuring accountability and transparency of the Prison Service," added Mr. Lines.

"The ongoing failure of the Minister for Justice to establish proper systems of monitoring means that this important and expensive public service continues to operate largely in secret, and without the type of oversight the public has a right to expect," he said.

Updated 2006 edition of Prison Needle Exchange: Lessons from a Comprehensive Review of International Evidence and Experience

This is the most comprehensive report on the international evidence and experience of prison syringe exchange. It provides the clearest evidence yet that these programmes are both safe and effective.  This is the second edition of the report, revised and updated for 2006 with the leatest developments on this issue.

The report, co-authored by IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines and published by the Toronto-based Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, concludes that the controlled provision of sterile syringes in prisons:

  • reduces risk behaviour and disease (including HIV and Hep C) transmission; 
  • does not endanger staff or prisoner safety, and in fact, make prisons safer places for both staff and prisoners; 
  • does not increase drug use or injecting; 
  • has been successfully implemented in a wide variety of prison environments

Amnesty International (Irish Section) to launch Mental Health Lobbying Network

As part of Amnesty International's campaign to promote the right to the highest attainable standard of mental health, the organisation will be establishing a Mental Health Lobbying Network.  This network should be on interest to IPRT members and supporters, as it will provide an opportunity to be active on issues related to mental health and prisons.

Each month a letter-writing action will be issued to the Network, together with advice on how to lobby TDs. Regional training and capacity-building resources will be made available to Network members throughout the course of these actions. The objective is that as many individuals as possible call, visit or write to their TD on the same day each month with the same issue and demand.

On October 10th, a public meeting will be held to present an outline of the proposed Network, and to invite public input and suggestions. The meeting will be hald at the Gresham Hotel, 23 Upper O'Connell Street, Dublin 1 from 10am-12noon.  Tea and coffee will be served at 9:30am

While this Network is for individuals, we also welcome at this meeting organisations with membership bases or channels of communication with individuals who may be interested in participating in the Network.

If you plan to attend, please contact Karol Balfe, Campaigns Officer, at 01-677 6361 or info@amnesty.ie.

"Cops Say Legalize Drugs" - Video from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

Current and former members of law enforcement in the United States who support drug regulation rather than prohibition.

For people who missed our conference "Rethinking the War on Drugs" with former police chief Jerry Cameron of LEAP, this short video gives a good overview of why they are calling for an end to the drug war.

Watch the 13 minute video here on YouTube 

"Prisoners will get drug-taking kits" by Angus Macleod and Ben Hoyle, The Times

Prisoners will be given personal drug-taking kits under a controversial new scheme to tackle the spread of HIV and hepatitis C in British jails.

Inmates at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen, where drug-taking among prisoners was particularly high, will be the first to receive the kits. They include syringes, swabs, filters and a sharps disposal box.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has confirmed that the pilot programme was planned for early next year, after a Glasgow Caledonian University report. It concluded that prisoners regarded the drug problem in Scotland's jails as unstoppable.

Their views echoed a Home Office report last month, which confirmed that drug use was commonplace within prisons in England and Wales.

That study stated that some supposedly drug-free wings were awash with illegal drugs and depicted a world where heroin, cannabis, crack and non-prescribed medications all circulated freely.

Interviewees said that obtaining drugs was relatively straightforward. Drugs entered prisons by social visits, in the mail, through new prisoners, via contact with friends on the outside after court appearances, or in bundles thrown over the perimeter wall. They were then exchanged in prison churches, gyms, workshops, education classes, during visits and in queues.

With the continued proliferation of illicit drug-taking in prisons has come a serious infection problem, which the Craiginches pilot scheme aims to address.

The SPS said yesterday that if the behaviour of prisoners taking drugs could not be changed, the service had a responsibility both to inmates and to prison staff to ensure their safety. A decision to introduce the kits will be taken by the prison service and will not have to be approved by Scottish Executive ministers.

The SPS added that the kits would reflect needle exchange programmes that existed in the community and would be modelled on similar schemes in the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and Spain.

The Court of Appeal in London has already dismissed a case brought by an English prisoner under human rights laws to have needle exchange programmes introduced in jails south of the border.

The SPS spokesman added: "We've looked at international research which shows that the introduction of the safe injection programmes reduces drug injecting."

Last year alone, nearly 2,000 drugs packages were intercepted on their way to Scottish prisoners. Officials claim that human rights laws allowing contact between prisoners and their families mean that the authorities can never halt the flow of drugs into jails.

Annabel Goldie, the leader of the Scottish Tories and a campaigner for more treatment centres for drug addicts, said she could understand why the move was necessary, given the alarming levels of drug abuse in Scottish jails. "But we need a radical overhaul of rehabilitation structures in our jails. We should be helping prisoners get off drugs rather than helping them take them," she said.

Investigations at prisons have illustrated the scale of the problem. Last month 14 officers at Pentonville, North London, were suspended in a corruption investigation involving the alleged smuggling of drugs into the jail.

The Home Office has given no indication that it will adopt the scheme for England and Wales if the pilot in Scotland proves successful.


Prison needle exchange programmes in Switzerland, Germany and Spain have reduced dramatically HIV and hepatitis transmission rates A recent study in Canada claimed that giving drug kits to prisoners did not lead to an increase in drug taking or cause needles to be used as weapons A recent Home Office study suggested heroin, cannabis and crack were freely available in English and Welsh jails A survey of 6,200 in Scottish jails showed that a third had used drugs in the previous month with 128 injecting. Seventy-eight of those had shared needles Last year nearly 2,000 drugs packages were intercepted on their way to Scottish prisoners

(c) The Times 

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