IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Ebulletin #42

24th January 2007

VOICES RISING - Volume 5, Number 1

IPRT welcomes passage of Prisoner Voting Legislation

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has welcomed yesterday's approval by Dail Eireann of new legislation enabling prisoners to vote in forthcoming elections.  The legislation comes after nearly three years of campaigning on the issue by IPRT.

In March 2004, in the case of Hirst v. The United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  This decision was upheld by the Court in October last year following an attempt by the British Government to have it overturned.

"We very much welcome the passage of this new legislation, and the Government's action to bring Irish electoral law into conformity with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines.

"We particularly welcome the support this proposal received from all parties in the Oireachtas.  In many countries, prisoner voting rights is an issue manipulated for cynical political gain. We commend all the Government and Opposition parties for avoiding the low road in this debate, and for demonstrating a common commitment to ensuring full voting rights for all Irish citizens."

"The IPRT wil be monitoring the implementation of this new legislation in the coming months to ensure that it has its intended result of enabling imprisoned Irish citizens to exercise their franchise in the upcoming election," said Mr. Lines.

Problem with Gun Crime?? Ask the Experts!!

Earlier this month, Justice Minister Michael McDowell and Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy headed across the Atlantic to seek solutions to gun crime from their colleagues in Los Angeles and New York.

This latest effort to look "tough on crime" certainly begs the question of whether seeking advice on dealing with gun crime from the country with the highest rate of gun-related violence in the Western world isn't a bit like using the Titanic as a model of safe boating?

Let's check the figures.

Ireland experienced 66 homicides in 2006.  According to figures from the Los Angeles Police Department, that city (which has a popululation less than that of Ireland) had 35 murders between 17 December 2006 and 13 January 2007 alone!  This one month figure includes a total of 141 shooting victims in the city.  According to the LAPD, there were over 450 homicides in the city in 2006, and over 2,100 victims of shootings.

In case anyone's counting, that gives LA a murder rate per capita more than seven times that of Ireland.

In New York, the story is no different.  With a population double that or Ireland, their 2006 total of 594 murders (according to New York Police Department figures) gives them a homicide rate about five times that of ours. 

While Michael McDowell would point out that the murder rate in NYC has dropped dramatically in recent years, therefore meriting a visit from his team, one wonders whether reducing the murder rate from ten times Ireland's to only five times Ireland's is really a "success" story we should be emulating?

With an election coming up, and the press and opposition parties alike raging about violent crime, the Minister could be forgiven for seeking easy "tough guy" photo-ops with the NYPD and LAPD. Still, it does kinda makes you wonder if politicians from the U.S. shouldn't instead be coming to Ireland to see why our rates of violent crime are so much lower than theirs? 

IPRT granted permission to intervene in European Court of Human Rights case on prison syringe exchange

In December, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network were granted permission by the European Court of Human Rights to submit a joint third party intervention in the case of Shelley v United Kingdom. This case, which will be heard before the European Court later this year, examines the right of people in prison to access sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. 

If sucessful, the case could pave the way for the introduction of syringe exchange programmes in prisons across the Council of Europe, including Ireland.


IPRT to participate in Annual Trinty College Law Reform Debate

IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines will be among the participants in the annual Law Reform Debate of the Dublin University Law Society. The motion of this year's debate is "This House Believes that Prison Works" and will examine the need for reform in Ireland's prison system.

The debate will be chaired by former Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald and it is hoped that Minister for Justice, Mr. Michael McDowell will open the debate by putting forward his proposed reforms to Ireland's prison system. Other confirmed speakers include John Lonergan, Governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Clinton of the Prison Officers Association, Professor Ivana Bacik, Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin and Paul Anthony McDermott, Barrister-at-law, author and lecturer.

The debate is scheduled to take place on February 6th 2007 in the Graduates Memorial Building of Trinity College Dublin at 7.30 pm.

IPRT speaks at Health Promotion Winter School

IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines gave a plenary presentation on prison health issues at the Health Promotion Winter School.  This annual conference sponsored by the Health Service Executive brings together approximately 100 health promotion workers from across Ireland.

Two new Reports from the Prison Inspector

Two new reports from the Irish Prison Inspector examining conditions at Wheatfield Prison and Limerick Prison have been published and are available on the IPRT website.

CANADA: "Importation of drugs into jails increases despite new efforts to stem trafficking" from CanWest News Service

The importation of illegal drugs into jails has increased over the past five years despite several new to curb the flow, an internal government audit shows. While there were about 850 drug seizures in federal institutions during the 2001-02 fiscal year, that number climbed to 1,100 in 2003 and dropped to approximately 1,050 in 2004. This despite the introduction of Ion Mobility Spectrometry devices (which can detect if people have been handling drugs) at all institutions, detector dogs and the renewal of the federal government's National Drug Strategy in 2003. While the audit notes "general compliance" with strategies, it adds "given the National Drug Strategy indicated that [The Correctional Service of Canada] will not tolerate drug or alcohol use or the trafficking of drugs, there is a need for improvement."

© National Post 2007

"Does Prison Harden Inmates? A Discontinuity-based Approach" by M. Keith Chen and Jesse M. Shapiro

In this new study, two economists from the University of Chicago did a large empirical study on prison conditions. They show, when controlling for all other factors, that the harsher the prison conditions, the more likely the person will re-offend within three years of release. 


Some two million Americans are currently incarcerated, with roughly six hundred  thousand to be released this year. Despite this, little is known about the effects of confinement conditions on the post-release lives of inmates. In this paper we estimate the causal effect of prison conditions on recidivism rates by exploiting a discontinuity in the assignment of federal prisoners to security levels, and find that harsher prison conditions lead to significantly more post-release crime. We check our identifying assumptions by showing that similar discontinuities do not arise in a control population housed separately from other inmates, and that predetermined correlates of recidivism do not change discretely around score cutoffs. We argue our findings may have important implications for prison policy, and that our methodology is likely to be applicable beyond the particular context we study.

"Federal drug strategy flawed: study" by Peter O'Neill, Vancouver Sun

OTTAWA -- A new study published today says roughly three-quarters of federal spending to fight illegal drugs is going towards unproven and possibly counterproductive enforcement measures while an insignificant amount is being spent on potentially more effective "harm-reduction" measures.

The study was produced by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, an agency partly funded by the B.C. government, that is fighting a fierce battle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government over the future of Canada's only supervised injection site for addicts in downtown Vancouver.

"While the stated goal of Canada's drug strategy is to reduce harm, evidence obtained through this analysis indicates that the overwhelming emphasis continues to be on conventional enforcement-based approaches which are costly and often exacerbate, rather than reduce, harms," states the report in HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review, a publication funded partly by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the American Bar Association.

Meanwhile, federal funding to deal with health issues such as rampant HIV infection rates among addicts is "insignificant," the study notes.

"This stands in stark contrast to recent comments made by various stakeholders suggesting that there has been an over-investment in harm-reduction programming."

The comment was in direct reference to a statement by the Canadian Police Association on the same day, Sept. 1, 2006, that federal Health Minister Tony Clement questioned preliminary research suggesting Vancouver's supervised injection site for drug addicts is effective.

Clement issued a news release raising doubts about Vancouver's supervised injection site, called Insite, while announcing that he would extend the facility's licence only until the end of 2007 pending further review. Health Canada bureaucrats had supported a 3 1/2-year extension.

The CPA, meeting the same day in Victoria, publicly condemned so-called harm reduction measures. The CPA, a national organization for rank-and-file Canadian police officers, has emerged as a strong supporter of the Harper government's tough approach to crime.

CPA vice-president Tom Stamatakis, who is also president of the Vancouver Police Union, told the media the federal government is focusing most of its effort and money on harm-reduction measures such as needle exchanges and the Vancouver injection facility.

"This harm-reduction focus has led to unprecedented levels of crime in our city," said Stamatakis, calling for a new national strategy that focuses on treatment, prevention and enforcement.

The B.C. Centre's new study, analysing publicly available documents, said 73 per cent, or $271 million, of the $368 million spent by Ottawa in 2004-05 went towards enforcement measures such as border control, RCMP investigations and federal prosecution expenses.

Of the remaining $97 million, $51 million went to treatment, $26 million was spent on "co-ordination and research," $10 million went to prevention programs, and $10 million was devoted to harm reduction.

The study says the proportion of federal spending on enforcement has dropped from 95 per cent in 2001 to the most recent figure, 73 per cent, after the former Liberal government responding to criticism from the federal auditor-general and other critics that Canada's drug strategy was unco-ordinated and ineffective began emphasizing alternative anti-drug strategies such as harm reduction.

The authors, who object to Ottawa's plans to develop a new national drug strategy with greater focus on enforcement, say Ottawa is putting extraordinary demands on Insite to prove its positive impact. This pressure continues even though preliminary research indicates the Vancouver facility results in more addicts seeking treatment and fewer sharing needles.

Meanwhile, numerous studies have already shown that get-tough enforcement measures, as well as police-run education programs, aren't effective despite generous federal funding, the authors argue.

For instance, more intense enforcement measures push drug users outside urban centres, where they have less access to needle exchanges and treatment, and cause more violence, property crime, and high-risk injecting behaviour, according to the study.

"The proposed Americanization of the drug strategy, towards entrenching a heavy-handed approach that relies on law enforcement, will be a disaster," says report co-author Dr. Thomas Kerr in a statement.

"It is as if the federal government is willing to ignore a mountain of science to pursue an ideological agenda."

© CanWest News Service 2007

"Coroner Calls for Clean Syringes in Jails" by Rosemary Desmond, Australian Associated Press

Following an inquest into an inmate's injection drug overdose at the Woodford Correctional Center, Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes has come out in support of clean syringe access for prisoners.

The prisoner, who was serving a life sentence for murder, was found dead during a routine head count in June 2004. Barnes ruled the death, given the prisoner had taken a fatally high dose of heroin and also had hepatitis C, an accident. At the Brisbane Magistrates Court, Barnes noted the prisoner had tested positive for drug use on 15 previous occasions.

"In view of the inability of the Department of Corrective Services to keep prisons drug-free, and in recognition of its obligation to minimize the spread of blood-borne viruses among the prison population and those prisoners will come in contact with after release, I recommend that prisoners be given access to clean syringes," said Barnes.

(c) AAP