IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Ebulletin #39

1st November 2006

VOICES RISING - Volume 4, Number 10

Free Public Seminar -- The Cost of Prison?

IPRT Chairperson Claire Hamilton will be among the speakers at a public seminar organised by The Community Foundation for Ireland in collaboration with Philanthropy Ireland.

"The Cost of Prison" will address the present situation in prisons in Ireland and the social and financial costs. It will look at the experience in the UK and policy lessons for Ireland. Finally, alternatives to custody and partnering with communities in reducing re-offending will be examined.

Speakers will include:

Juliet Lyons, Director, Penal Reform Trust UK

Dr. Ian O'Donnell, Director, UCD Institute of Criminology 

Claire Hamilton, Lecturer in Criminology and Chairperson, Irish Penal Reform Trust

Gerry McNally, Assistant Director of Operations in the Probation Service 

Seminar: The Cost of Prison?

4pm to 6.30pm, Thursday 9th November 2006

IBEC Offices 84- 86 Lower Baggot Street

Dublin 2

To book your place please contact The Community Foundation for Ireland by phone 00 353 1874 7354 or via email at rmooney@foundation.ie.

As places are limited please book your place as soon as possible. Closing date for bookings 3rd November 2006.


SPEAKERS' BIOGRAPHIES

Juliet Lyon is the Director of the Prison Trust (PRT) UK. PRT aims to create a just, humane and effective penal system. It provides information, conducts research and works as the secretariat to the UK All Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group. Previously Juliet was associate director of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence. She has worked in mental health and in education as head of a psychiatric unit school. Her publications are mostly about young people on the margins of society. She currently contributes to the Ministerial Roundtable on Prison Suicides.

Dr. Ian O'Donnell is professor of criminology at University College Dublin and Director of the UCD Institute of Criminology. His research interests include penal policy, violent crime and the politics of law and order. He was previously Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and Research Officer at the Oxford University Centre for Criminological Research

Claire Hamilton LL. B. (Ling. Franc.), B.L., M. Litt., DipEurCon on Human Rights, is a barrister and a Lecturer in Criminology, Dublin Institute of Technology.  She is currently Chair of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and is author of the forthcoming book The Presumption of Innocence in Irish Criminal Law by Irish Academic Press. 

Gerry McNally is Assistant Director of Operations in the Probation Service based at Smithfield Chambers, Dublin 7. He has responsibility for service delivery and development of community based projects and initiatives working with the Probation Service in addition to responsibility for the management and development of Community Service Orders.

IPRT welcomes introduction of prisoner voting legislation

On 5 October, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2006 reached second stage debate in the Dáil. When passed, this legislation will enable prisoners to vote in forthcoming elections by postal ballots.

The IPRT has been lobbying the Government and Opposition parties on the issue of prisoner voting rights since the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2004 that blanket bans on prisoner voting contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.

The IPRT welcomed the introduction of the Bill by Local Government Minister Dick Roche, and was pleased that it received all party support in the legislature.

Following the second stage debate, the Bill will go to committee. The IPRT was asked by the Government to provide a written submission on the proposed legislation in advance of the committee hearings.  This submission was made in mid-October.  In it, the IPRT welcomed the Bill, and made a number of technical proposals to modify aspects of the legislation with the goal of ensuring prisoners are best able to register and vote at election time.

The Government has stated that it hopes the Bill will become lawe before Christmas.

IPRT meets with European Committee for the Prevention of Torture

In October, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) undertook a mission to Ireland to inspect places of detention.  The IPRT was among a number of human rights NGOs that were invited to meet privately with the CPT to brief them on our concerns.

On 2 October, IPRT Chairperson Claire Hamilton and Executive Director Rick Lines met with the CPT delegation for 90 minutes to discuss various concerns related to prison conditions, independent prison oversight, HIV/AIDS, mental health, immigration detention and juvenile justice.

The IPRT's submission to the CPT made earlier this year is now available on our website.

Irish Times Opinion Piece: "DPP's data does not support McDowell's contention"

The Minister for Justice's call to 'rebalance' the criminal justice system is more about votes than victims, suggests Rick Lines

There must be an election in the air. How else do we explain Minister for Justice Michael McDowell's recent call to "rebalance" the criminal justice system?

According to Mr McDowell, our current system is one in which "the needs, concerns and rights of victims of crime may have unintentionally become secondary to the rights and protections for the criminal". His solution? Reconsider long-standing democratic legal norms safeguarding due process, such as the right to silence and the right against double jeopardy.

How such changes would help victims of crime is unclear, although calling for them certainly helps a politician hoping to attract the "tough on crime" vote at the next election. Indeed, claims that the rules of the game are lax on criminals always make for good PR, even when they are not backed up by the facts.

Mr McDowell would, of course, bristle at any suggestion that he was using his office for partisan political purposes. Yet, as is so often the case, the assumptions driving his policies are not borne out by the evidence.

The Minister states that the issue of whether the correct balance is being struck between the rights of the accused and the prosecution was first raised at a conference of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Yet The Irish Times reported less than 12 months ago that the Director of Public Prosecutions' own data shows that under the current system, now called into question by the Minister, 95 per cent of cases sent to trial result in convictions, with nine in 10 of these convictions coming as a result of a guilty plea by the defendant.

If a 95 per cent conviction rate is indicative of a system unfairly skewed towards the accused, one wonders what Mr McDowell's vision of a "balanced" system looks like? Indeed, when nine in ten defendants admit their guilt in court, it hardly seems that the right to silence forms an undue barrier to successful prosecutions.

Even the conviction-hungry White House is at pains to point out that its controversial military tribunals planned for Guantánamo Bay detainees will maintain the right against self-incrimination and the right against double jeopardy.

Yet Mr McDowell's "five per cent solution" suggests that Ireland must limit these rights in order to deal with those very few people who, suspiciously in the Minister's estimation, are acquitted by judges or juries.

Victims of crime, and indeed society as a whole, are only served when the right person - not just any person - is held accountable for an offence. Anything less results not only in an innocent person being incarcerated, but a guilty person being left at large to continue offending.

The long-standing legal safeguards now seen as questionable by Mr McDowell are in place precisely to help promote the former outcome, and therefore protect not only the accused, but also the victim and the community as a whole.

Ireland is a nation all too familiar with the tragedy of wrongful convictions occurring when basic legal safeguards are ignored in an often politically-motivated rush to convict. While the needs of politicians may be better served by locking up just anyone, and therefore portraying an image that the forces of law and order have "closed the books" on as many crimes as possible, this does nothing for the cause of justice, the needs of victims or the safety of the community.

Rick Lines is the Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust


© The Irish Times

IPRT speaks at conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia

IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines was among those invited to speak at the opening plenary of the 9th European Conference on Drugs and Infections Prevention in Prisons, held in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The conference was organised by the European Network on Drugs and Infections Prevention in Prison (ENDIPP).

Mr. Lines presentation was entitled "The Principle of Equivalence in Prison Healthcare: Floor of Ceiling?".

U.S. STUDY: Media rarely notes when Alcohol plays role in Violent Crimes and Accidents

COLUMBUS , Ohio - The news media seriously underreport the role alcohol plays in violent crimes, injuries and traffic accidents, according to a new national study.

While alcohol is believed to play a role in about one-third of homicides and fatal motor vehicle accidents, media reports linked alcohol to specific accidents or crimes significantly less frequently.

Some of the largest discrepancies occurred in reporting alcohol use in violent crimes, particularly for television news. Only 1.4 percent of television news stories in the sample mentioned the role of alcohol in their reporting of homicides, according to Michael Slater, co-author of the study and professor of communication at Ohio State University.

The result is that the public may underestimate the dangers of alcohol use, Slater said.

"People's perceptions of risk are strongly shaped by what they see in the media, so many people may have distorted views about the risks of alcohol use," he said.

"If the media doesn't report on the link between alcohol and violent crime and accidents, most people won't be fully aware of the risks. This may also decrease public support for alcohol control measures that can significantly reduce alcohol-related problems"

Slater conducted the study with Marilee Long and Valerie Ford of Colorado State University. Their results appear in the November 2006 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. For this study, the researchers used estimates that alcohol plays a role in about one third (31.1 percent) of homicides and a third (31 percent)of fatal non-traffic injuries. The estimates come from a study of data from 331 medical examiner studies conducted between 1975 and 1995.

They used statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which estimated that 34 percent of accidents involved people who were legally intoxicated.

The researchers then examined coverage of crimes and accidents appearing in a national sample of daily newspaper, magazine and local television news, as well as national television news during a two-year period (2002-03). They determined the percentage of stories that linked alcohol use to specific violent crimes, injuries and motor vehicle accidents.

In all, they analyzed the content of about 1,000 daily newspaper editions, 550 television news programs, and 72 magazine issues. Newspapers and television stations were selected so they represented all regions of the country, in cities of various sizes. Three news magazines - Newsweek, Time and U.S. News & World Report -- were also sampled, as were the three major television networks, CNN and USA Today.

This sample more closely approximates a truly representative national sample of media outlets than any previous study of which the researchers are aware, Slater said.

As expected, the media was most likely to report on alcohol use in motor vehicle accidents, but even then, they fell far short of estimated numbers, Slater said.

While alcohol is linked to 34 percent of motor vehicle accidents, only 12.8 percent of television stories, 19.2 percent of newspaper articles, and 22.2 percent of magazine articles about such accidents mentioned the use of alcohol, the study revealed.

For stories about fatal accidents not involving motor vehicles, alcohol was mentioned in 1.4 percent of television reports, 4.8 percent of newspaper stories and 13.6 percent of magazine articles. However, statistics suggest 31 percent of these accidents involve the use of alcohol.

The link between violent crime and alcohol use was also rarely acknowledged.

Estimates suggest alcohol plays a role in 31 percent of homicides, but it is mentioned in only 2.6 percent of television reports, 7.3 percent of newspaper accounts, and 5.6 percent of magazine reports of violent crime, with even lower percentages in the reporting of homicides.

As these figures show, television does the poorest job in reporting when accidents or crimes have a connection to alcohol use.

"The percentage of TV news stories about violent crime that mention the role of alcohol was less than one-tenth the estimated percentage that had such a link," Slater said.

"By just watching TV news, most people would have little idea about the dangers of alcohol abuse when it comes to crime and accidents," he said. "Even the print media doesn't give the complete story."

The study also looked at media coverage of drug use and found that between 1.8 and 18.1 percent of reports about crimes or accidents mentioned the use of drugs. However, there were no estimates available about how often drug use was actually involved in these incidents.

The underreporting of the alcohol connection to crimes and accidents can be blamed on both police and news reporters, Slater said. Police departments may not mandate that officers mention in their reports if alcohol is suspected of playing a role in a violent crime or some types of accidental deaths. And reporters and their editors don't make it a habit to ask.

Whatever the reasons, Slater said it does make a difference.

"The underreporting of the contribution of alcohol to crime and accidents may make it more difficult for wide acceptance of strategies to control alcohol use," he said.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.

Press Release from ACT UP Philadelphia: "Philadelphia Prison Commisioner Approves Condoms forHIV Prevention after AIDS Activists Challenge Broken Policy"

Philadelphia, PA - Philadelphia Prison Commissioner Leon King will approve a revised condom availability policy after months of negotiation with ACT UP Philadelphia. Commissioner King will update the once-pioneering "Policy E.4.3.1," which was created in the late 1980s to help prevent HIV transmission in county jails.

The policy has been widely seen as a national model, although activists have privately criticized it for being too weak and complained that it has never been enforced. A survey among inmates conducted by ACT UP Philadelphia suggested that it is difficult to access condoms and that they have been frequently penalized for possessing them.

"We're pleased that Commissioner King is following through on the Philadelphia Prison's longstanding, but so far largely unfulfilled promise to make condoms available to inmates. This is an essential step toward reducing the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS in our city, especially among African-Americans," said ACT UP member Tymm Walker.

A study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC  last year concluded that HIV transmission does occur behind bars and recommended that condom availability be considered as an effective public intervention. Waheedah Shabazz El of the Philadelphia County Coalition on Prison Healthcare and ACT UP commented, "Good prison health is good community health. Providing condoms to people who are incarcerated is not a moral, social or a political issue, it is a health issue."

In order to stop prison authorities from penalizing inmates for possessing condoms, they will now be for sale in commissaries. "This will send a clear message that condoms are not contraband to Correctional Officers, a problem that lead to the lack of condom availability before the update in policy," stated ACT UP member Jose de Marco. Free condoms will also be available during sick call, on the medication cart, and in social workers' offices. Both male and female condoms will be available. The Health Department's AIDS Activities Coordinating Office will provide the condoms, along with voluntary HIV testing and counseling.

Leah Hilsey of ACT UP said, "Providing condoms and HIV prevention education to inmates is important because they may not receive them when they are in their communities. Teaching people while incarcerated skills that can help save their lives is good public policy."

"ACT UP's collaboration with the Philadelphia Prison System is part of our commitment to promoting policies that ensure equitable access to prevention and treatment for all people living and at risk for HIV/AIDS," said ACT UP member Kaytee Riek. Since 1987, ACT UP Philadelphia ha  been working to reduce barriers to treatment and increase proven HIV prevention efforts in Philadelphia, the US, and internationally. "As a par  of this commitment, we intent to hold the city accountable for all promises relating to condom availability, including the high schools."

More than half of all new HIV infections and AIDS cases are among African-Americans, despite being only 12% of the total US population. Furthermore, a recent study by CDC reported that nearly half of African-American men who have sex with men may be HIV positive. Each year, 25% of people with HIV will spend some time behind bars. "Providing life saving prevention tools like condoms can also save thousands of dollars in treatment costs later on and avoid further overburdening systems of care," commented Jose de Marco of ACT UP.