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Ebulletin #43

1st March 2007

VOICES RISING - Volume 5, Number 2

IPRT, ICCL and FLAC to prepare Shadow Report on Ireland's human rights record

The IPRT, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Free Legal Advice Centres have undertaken to prepare a Shadow Report on Ireland's compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). 

This comprehensive report will examine Ireland's human rights record in a number of key areas, and the final report will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee, which considers Ireland's compliance with the ICCPR later this year.

IPRT response to the UK Government submission in the case of Shelley v United Kingdom

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.

In this submission, the second submitted by the IPRT and the Legal Network, the groups respond to the written submission of the UK Government. 

The joint submission is available for download.


Press Release: NGOs to Monitor the Impact of ASBOs on Children

A coalition of non-governmental organizations will monitor the impact of Anti Social Behaviour Orders on children and young people in Ireland. ASBOS are due to be introduced into Irish law tomorrow, Thursday 1 March, through the Criminal Justice Act, 2006.

Today the Children's Rights Alliance launched a new website - www.asbowatch.ie

The website aims to publicise that the Alliance will be monitoring the use of ASBOS as they relate to children and calls on any individual or organisation concerned about the use of an ASBO in respect of a child to email the Alliance at contact@asbowatch.ie

Michael McLoughlin stated that:

"The aim of the website, asbowatch.ie, is to provide a mechanism through which we can monitor the use of ASBOs. Child and youth organisations work to support thousands of young people week in and week out. We want those organisations to keep a watchful eye out, to take on the monitoring role so that together we can ensure that children and young people do not suffer under these new provisions. We are asking that people let us know about experiences of ASBOs in their communities so that we can collate them all at a national level and communicate the results to Government.

We have a range of ways to engage with children to deter them from involvement in anti social behaviour. A key piece of legislation in this area is the Children Act, 2001. The Government has promised that ASBOs will only be used as a last resort when all other routes are exhausted. However, some of the key measures contained in the Children Act are not yet in force, six years after its enactment.

For example, courts currently have few sentencing alternatives to detention as only two of the ten community sanctions provided for in the Act have been commenced. Unless, and until the Children Act, 2001 is fully implemented, ASBOS cannot be considered to be a measure of last resort. The Alliance calls for the full implementation of the Children Act, 2001 and the resourcing of the necessary prevention, early intervention and rehabilitative services for children and young people. Improved community policing should be provided to ensure better relationships between young people and the Gardaí at local level."

ASBOs fundamentally provide a criminal sanction for behaviour which is not criminal in nature. This is contrary to our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and international best practice.

IPRT speaks to students at Trinity College and King's Inns

On February 6th, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines was among the participants in the annual Law Reform Debate of the Dublin University Law Society at Trinity College Dublin. The motion of this year's debate was "This House Believes that Prison Works" and will examine the need for reform in Ireland's prison system. Other speakers included 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 Fr Peter McVerry.

On February 19th, Mr. Lines spoke on the work of the IPRT to trainee barristers at The Honourable Society of King's Inns 

"The prisoners who pay $125 a pack to beat smoking ban" by Chris Ayers, The Times (of London)

California is being urged to drop or overhaul its no-smoking policy in prisons after black market prices in jail reached $125 (£64) for a packet, sparking riots and a booming trade that is diverting warders from their duties.

The situation has become so bad that a prisoner at the Pelican Bay State Prison was found sneaking back on to prison grounds only hours after being released, carrying a pillowcase stuffed with 50oz (1.5kg) of rolling tobacco.

A cook at Folsom State Prison has been forced to resign after being caught with plastic bags filled with rolling tobacco. He told the authorities that he was earning $1,000 a week from tobacco sales, much more than he did in his day job.

"It's almost becoming a better market than drugs," said Devan Hawkes, an antigang officer at Pelican Bay. "A lot of people are trying to make money."

Smoking was banned in Californian prisons in 2005, with the aim of improving work conditions and curbing rising healthcare costs.

Some found it ironic that the blanket rule would affect even Death Row inmates. Warders complained that their own guilty pleasure was being denied.

Now the warders are saying that their time is being wasted trying to break tobacco-smuggling rings when they should be focused on more important matters such as keeping drugs and firearms out of jails. Pepper spray was used at a facility in Northern California recently, when a fight over the control of black-market tobacco sales broke out between white and Hispanic inmates.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Lieutenant Kenny Calhoun, of the Sierra Conservation Centre, the California prison where the $125 packet prices were reported, making tobaccco almost as valuable, per ounce, as caviar.

So far the penalties against smuggling tobacco into prisons remain relatively light: inmates can get away with a written warning or extra work duties, while prison employees lose their jobs, but are rarely prosecuted. The profits, however, can be enormous.

Chuck Alexander, executive vice-president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, is calling on politicians to either rethink the ban or introduce stronger penalties. He says that the policy has been a disaster.

"It didn't do anything but make [tobacco] a lucrative business," he said.

California has the largest prison population in the US, with 172,000 adult inmates, and is among only a few states that bans all tobacco products. But tobacco has a knack of penetrating even the tightest security. Warders say that family and friends pass it secretly to inmates during visits. Other inmates assigned to work on the prison grounds arrange for cohorts outside the prison to leave stashes of tobacco at prearranged drop sites.

© Copyright Times Newspapers Ltd

"Gun-crime bill on 'deathbed,' liberals say" by Janice Tibbetts, National Post

OTTAWA - The Conservative law-and-order agenda has been dealt another blow by the opposition, which is refusing to support a key bill to impose mandatory minimum prison terms for a variety of gun-related crimes.

The Commons justice committee, which is dominated by the opposition, is wrapping up months of study on the flagship bill and members said yesterday they will send a dramatically watered-down version to Parliament for a final vote.

"It's on its deathbed," Liberal MP Derek Lee declared of the Conservative proposal to impose minimum prison sentences of three to 10 years.

Tory MP Rob Moore accused the opposition, particularly the Liberals, of trying to "gut" the bill after they refused yesterday to accept government overtures to soften it.

The gun bill was the first piece of legislation introduced by the Harper government last spring. It was widely regarded as having more chance of passing than any other government justice proposal because both the Liberals and the NDP proposed increases in minimum prison terms, albeit less severe, during last year's election campaign.

The stalemate between the opposition and the government is the latest sign the Conservative justice agenda is stalled.

Last fall, the Commons passed a watered-down version of a Conservative bill to severely curtail the use of house arrest, which allows offenders to serve their time in the community instead of going to jail.

A housekeeping bill on judges' salaries, and another one to crack down on street racing, are the only justice measures that have passed.

Nine more bills are still winding their way through the parliamentary process.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, whose job is to stick-handle the Conservative justice agenda through the Commons, vowed "the fight is not over yet" on the gun bill.

"I don't accept that the bill is doomed," Mr. Nicholson said.

While he said he is open to some amendments, he added he isn't prepared to accept a hollowed out version of the bill.

The gun bill would increase mandatory prison terms for numerous crimes involving guns, such as attempted murder and kidnapping, and force judges to impose terms of three to 10 years, with the lesser sentences reserved for first-time offenders and the most severe terms for serious, repeat offenders.

There are already 20 automatic jail terms of up to four years for gun-related crimes in the Criminal Code, ranging from one to four years, imposed a decade ago as part of Liberal gun control laws.

A key sticking point is the opposition desire for some latitude for judicial discretion, rather than a cast in stone "meat chart" for a sentencing regime, said Mr. Lee.

There is a general consensus among criminologists that minimum mandatory sentences do nothing to deter crime. The gun crime bill was introduced primarily as a response to a wave of gang-related shootings that plagued Toronto and other large cities in 2005, months before the last election.

Critics contend there is no need for stiffer legislation because the problem has largely been addressed by more aggressive enforcement of existing laws.

For instance, gun-related crime in Toronto plummeted last year, a drop attributed to a focus on community-based policing.

(c) National Post

Press Release: Prison Growth Could Cost Up to $27.5 Billion Over Next 5 Years

Washington, DC - By 2011 one in every 178 U.S. residents will live in prison, according to a new report released today by the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Public Safety, Public Spending: Forecasting America's Prison Population 2007-2011 projects that by 2011 America will have more than 1.7 million men and women in prison, an increase of more than 192,000 from 2006. That increase could cost taxpayers as much as $27.5 billion over the next five years beyond what they currently spend on prisons.

"As states continue to struggle with tight budgets and competing priorities among health, education and safety, they are beginning to question whether huge additional investments in prisons are the most effective and economical way of combating crime," said Susan Urahn, Managing Director of State Policy Initiatives at The Pew Charitable Trusts. "The challenge for state policy makers is to ensure that taxpayers are getting a strong return on their investment in corrections: safer communities, efficient use of public dollars, and ex-offenders who become productive, law-abiding members of society."

Public Safety, Public Spending was prepared for the Trusts by the JFA Institute, a Washington-based, nonprofit research and consulting firm. Among the report's projections for 2011:

*    Without policy changes by the states, the nation's incarceration rate will reach 562 per 100,000, or one of every 178 Americans. If you put them all together in one place, the incarcerated population in just five years will outnumber the residents of Atlanta, Baltimore and Denver combined. 
*    The new inmates will cost states an additional $15 billion for prison operations over the five-year period. Construction of new prison beds will cost as much as $12.5 billion. 
*    Unless Montana, Arizona, Alaska, Idaho and Vermont change their sentencing or release practices, they can expect to see their prison systems grow by one third or more. Similarly, barring reforms, Colorado, Washington, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and South Dakota can expect their inmate populations to grow by about 25 percent. 
*    Connecticut, Delaware and New York are projected to see no change in their prison populations. Maryland will see a 1 percent increase in prison population. 
*    The number of women prisoners is projected to grow by 16 percent, while the male population will increase 12 percent. 
*    Though the Northeast boasts the lowest incarceration rates, it has the highest costs per prisoner, led by Rhode Island ($44,860 per prisoner). Louisiana spends the least per prisoner ($13,009).

Researchers found that while circumstances such as states' demographic changes are influencing the projection estimates, a significant driver of the expected increase in the prison population is the cumulative impact of state policy decisions. These include mandatory minimum prison sentences, reduced parole grant rates, and high recidivism rates, especially among people on parole and probation who are sent to prison for breaking the rules of their release.

"There is more agreement across the political spectrum on criminal justice policy than there has been in a quarter century," said Adam Gelb, project director of the Public Safety Performance Project. "State policy makers we've spoken with want adequate prison space to house violent and serious offenders without breaking the bank by building thousands of new prison beds. And they want to do more than warehouse people. They want to prevent crime by reducing recidivism."

"Innovative governors and legislators across the country are exploring policies, programs and technologies they believe will save their states money and reduce recidivism," added Gelb. "They are being joined in this pursuit by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, corrections and law enforcement officials, faith-based organizations and community advocates, and others searching for cost-effective solutions backed by credible research and a track record of success."

The Public Safety Performance Project helps select states diagnose the factors driving prison growth and identify tailored options for reform that draw on solid research, promising approaches and best practices in other states. In partnership with well-respected, nonpartisan experts, including the Council of State Governments and the Vera Institute of Justice, the project initially is working in eight states: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Texas.

The project also helps state officials, practitioners and others across the country share state-of-the-art knowledge and ideas through policy forums, public opinion surveys, multi-state meetings, national, regional and state-level convenings and online information about what works.

The full report and additional information about the project and the states in which it is working are available at the project's Web site.

About the methodology

The report projects prison populations using the official forecasts from 42 states and estimates for the eight others. Forty-two states provided their projections directly to the report's researchers. For the eight others, which were unable to provide official projections, researchers calculated estimates using the states' most recent monthly population counts and available admission and release data. The population projected is for state and federal prisons, not jails. Prisons generally hold offenders sentenced to a year or more in custody; jails hold people awaiting trial and serving sentences shorter than a year.

About the project

The Public Safety Performance Project is an operating project of The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project seeks to help states advance fiscally sound, data-driven policies and practices in sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs.

About Pew

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society.
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