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Ebulletin #45

27th March 2008

Dear Members, Colleagues and Friends,

After a period of significant internal change, we are delighted to bring you an extended update on recent developments.

On the Board of IPRT, Dr. Ursula Kilkelly of UCC took over as Chairperson in August 2007 succeeding Claire Hamilton.

We are also happy to introduce Liam Herrick as our new Executive Director. Liam has a wealth of experience working in the human rights sector including four years as Senior Legislation and Policy Officer with the Irish Human Rights Commission, and work with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Law Reform Commission and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Liam succeeds Rick Lines who has taken up the post of Senior Policy Advisor with the International Harm Reduction Association in London.

IPRT is currently engaged in a process of strategic review which will lead to the adoption of a Strategic Plan for 2008-2011. The core values that underpin our work will not change: respect for the human rights of all persons coming in contact with the criminal justice system; promoting evidence-based strategies for addressing and preventing offending behaviour; and advocating a reliance on imprisonment as a last resort. Our aim is to build on these core values in the development of a coherent policy agenda, designed to achieve practical and positive change in the Irish penal system. We hope to bring the Strategic Plan before our AGM in May.

Irish Penal Reform Trust
53 Parnell Square West
Dublin 1, IRELAND

Tel: +353-(0)1-874-1400
info@iprt.ie
www.iprt.ie

IPRT Welcomes Announcement of Child Detention Plans

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Children of the Government's decision to build a national child detention facility that will house all child offenders.  In particular, IPRT welcomes Minister Smith's commitment to prioritise the building of appropriate facilities for the 16- and 17- year old offenders who are currently housed in St. Patrick's Institution in contravention of international law.  IPRT strongly hopes that today's announcement will make redundant the contingency plans of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to transfer child offenders to the new prison in Thornton Hall on the closure of St. Patrick's.  Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, IPRT chairperson, stated:

"The detention of young offenders in an adult prison has been an    ongoing blight on Ireland's human rights record.  We strongly hope that today's announcement is indicative of a new level of commitment on the part of Government to take the rights of children in the justice system seriously."

IPRT particularly welcomes Minister Smith's indication that he is committed to a wide consultation with all stakeholders in the planning for the new facility.  Dr. Kilkelly said that IPRT has already commissioned its own independent research on best international practice in the administration, conditions and regime of child detention facilities:

"IPRT is committed to participating constructively in any consultation around the plans for the new facility and we will be bringing forward proposals for the design and running of the new facility which, with the commitment of the Irish Youth Justice Service, we believe can be brought to the standards of international best practice."

However, IPRT retains concerns about the overall rate of detention of children in Ireland.  Much remains to be done to ensure that children are diverted from the criminal justice system wherever possible.  Dr. Kilkelly pointed out that the quality of detention facilities for children must be viewed in this context:

"The principle of detaining children as a last resort is enshrined in both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children Act 2001.  We continue to send far too many children into detention every year.  For example, the high proportion of the children currently in St. Patrick's who are on remand indicates a serious failure to provide bail support to keep children out of prison.  The Children Act 2001 provides a range of alternatives to custody, but more must be done to resource the Gardaí and the Probation Service to ensure that, wherever possible, children are diverted from the justice system."

Plans to Double Size of Women's Prison

The Irish Times' Breda O'Brien has revealed that the Government is planning to double the capacity of the Dochas Centre, the women's prison, in the controversial prison development at Thornton Hall. Capacity is currently 85, though it often holds 90 or more.

IPRT has joined together with a number of other NGOs, including the National Women's Council and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, to express its concern at the potential impact of the proposed transfer of the Dochas Centre to Thornton Hall.

As well as being alarmed at proposals to dramatically increase the number of prison places for women, IPRT fears that the transfer of the prison from its inner-city location may have a negative impact on prisoners, their families and those services currently operating into the prison.

Former prisoner denied damages for slopping out

Former prisoner denied damages for slopping out

Barry Roche, Southern Correspondent

A claim for damages by a former prison inmate over concerns for his health as a result of having to slop out a chamber pot in his cell was dismissed by a judge yesterday in the first such compensation case to be decided by the courts.

Troy Cremin (29) had brought the civil action against the State on a number of grounds, alleging that he was forced to share a chamber pot and slop out with other prisoners and forced to endure passive smoking while in Cork Prison.

 Mr Cremin, of Palm Springs, Ardarrig, Douglas, Cork, claimed the toilet facilities at Cork Prison were like those of the Stone Age as he had to share a mayonnaise bucket as a chamber pot with five other cell mates.

He also claimed he was subjected to passive smoking in a cell with five other smoking prisoners at Cork Prison between October 2004 and February 2005 when he served a jail term for harassing elderly neighbours in Douglas.

Yesterday Judge Con O'Leary dismissed Mr Cremin's claim for damages and awarded costs to the State, which is facing hundreds of similar actions at both Circuit Court and High Court level.

The governor of Cork Prison, Jim Collins, had denied that the conditions in the jail were filthy, and said that 95 per cent of prisoners who wished to get out of their cells at night to go to the toilet were facilitated to do so.

Pearse Sreenan, for the State, said Mr Cremin never complained of toilet facilities or passive smoking while in prison, and he was treated in a fair, just and reasonable manner at all times.

Mr Cremin had sought damages on several grounds, but all had been dismissed at earlier hearings with only one claim left to be decided yesterday - whether he was entitled to damages as a result of fears he had about contracting an illness from sharing the chamber pot.

Yesterday's ruling was welcomed by the Irish Prison Service compensation claims manager Martin Smyth, who said that as well as the judge's decision his ruling on costs was a significant aspect of the case.

"This decision will reinforce our determination to vigorously contest the several hundred claims that have been lodged against the State, while we are also determined to seek out our costs from every failed litigant."

There are some 900 claims outstanding from inmates, but the State has to date only been able to establish that 440 of these actually served time.

The bulk of the actions relate to Limerick, Cork, Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons, Mr Smyth said.
 2008 The Irish Times

Report points to underresourcing of probation and community sanctions

Use of community sanctions for criminals 'outdated', says report

Conor Lally, Crime Correspondent

Ireland's approach to using community sanctions for criminals is "embarrassing", outdated and in need of a major overhaul, a Government-commissioned report has concluded.

The report, by former head of the Probation and Welfare Service Seán Lowry, also contains criticisms of the judiciary. It says judges are referring too many low-risk offenders to the probation service, putting it under strain and deflecting probation officers away from dealing with higher-risk criminals.

Mr Lowry's report has pointed to weaknesses in the Irish approach to the rehabilitation of violent criminals, and in monitoring sex offenders.

While violent crime is addressed by a "small number" of programmes in Ireland, a "wider strategy" is needed to combat the use of violence, particularly by young people.

He says Ireland is monitoring far fewer released sex offenders compared with other jurisdictions.

The unpublished report has been obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Lowry pointed to Canada as an example of best practice in the treatment of sex offenders.

In two regions in Canada - Manitoba and British Columbia - more than 1,000 sex offenders are being supervised in the community in a population of 5.3 million. In Ireland only 150 sex offenders are being supervised in a population of almost 4.5 million.

In Manitoba, a public notification committee decides whether full or partial information about a sex offender is disclosed to the community.

The report notes the number of hours involved in community sanctions for all crime types here is far higher than in other jurisdictions - 150 hours in Ireland compared with 60 in Scandinavia. This is leading to poor completion rates here.

It has recommended a reduction in hours in favour of "composite" orders which could include counselling for criminals along with periods of tagging and community work.

It says the system in Finland and Norway has proven so successful that prison terms below six and eight months have either been abolished or are converted to other forms of rehabilitative punishment. If the same approach was adapted here, committals to prison of sentenced criminals would fall by about two-thirds, from 5,800 to 1,800.

Some 4,000 of the 5,800 sentenced criminals committed to prison in 2006 were serving sentences of eight months or less.

A move towards composite orders should be developed in consultation with the judiciary, the report says.

Mr Lowry was asked in 2006 by then minister for justice Michael McDowell to review Ireland's approach to community sanctions against international best practice.

Mr Lowry studied practices in 30 countries. He visited a number of jurisdictions including the US, Canada, New Zealand, Finland and Denmark. In his report, he concludes generally of community sanctions that "the practice in this country has not kept up with developments" in other jurisdictions.

"It is embarrassing in interaction with the international community to have to reveal that we work under an outdated piece of British legislation which has long since been replaced in Britain."

He points to the US as an example of how low-risk offenders could be more effectively managed. In New York, low-risk offenders complete computerised questionnaires at call centres. It is only when matters for concern are identified in the criminals' answers that probation workers become actively involved in their case.

High rate of drug use in prison disclosed

40,000 positive drug tests in prisons

Conor Lally, Crime Correspondent

Inmates in the Republic's prisons have tested positive for drugs 40,000 times over the past three years, according to figures obtained by The Irish Times . Detection rates are as high as 75 per cent in some jails.

The results were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. They represent the first published evidence of the extent of the prison drug problem and will prove embarrassing for the Government.

The new data reveal no reduction in drug consumption in prisons since the launch in late 2004 of the Government's drug-free prison policy. The number of tests carried out has actually fallen since the policy was launched.

Most of those inmates who tested positive across the system were positive for a cocktail of drugs. Some 33,779 of the positive tests were for cannabis, 26,584 for benzodiazepines, 25,346 for opiates, 2,017 for cocaine, 850 for alcohol and 620 for amphetamines.

There are 3,200 inmates in prison at any one time, with about 10,000 committals every year. Many inmates are tested for drugs more than once per year.

The rate of positive tests across the prison population has remained at about the same levels in the past three years. Of the 25,362 tests carried out in the first nine months of last year, 36 per cent were positive for traces of banned substances.

In 2006, 25,276 tests were carried out, with 37 per cent giving positive results. In 2005 some 37,288 tests were carried out, with 47 per cent testing positive.

The higher percentage rate of positive tests in 2005 is attributable to the fact that 8,300 more tests were carried out at Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, that year than in 2006.

Reducing testing in the prison with the worst drug problem would artificially bring down the national positive test rate.

The combined number of positive tests for 2005, 2006 and the first nine months of 2007 was 36,365. Some 9,123 positive tests were recorded in the first nine months of last year. Assuming a similar rate for the remainder of the year, the combined number of positives for the full three-year period was just under 40,000.

© 2008 The Irish Times

Government to introduce Spent Convictions legislation

The Irish Times today announced that Minister for Justice  Brian Lenihan has won Cabinet approval for the Spent Convictions Bill 2008 and it could become law within weeks.  The proposals are designed to reduce the rate of re-offending in Ireland by automatically wiping the criminal record of people who serve six months or less in prison.

The Bill was introduced in the Dá il in October by Government TD Barry Andrews. The Fianna Fail TD claims he will make history as the first Government backbencher to see his own Bill become law.

The Law Society is also in the process of publishing a Consultation Paper on Spent Convictions, to which IPRT has made a submission. IPRT will be closely monitoring the progress of this Bill.

Dr. Ian O'Donnell to publish study of Irish imprisonment rates

Ireland has one of the lowest rates of imprisonment in Europe, and one 10 times lower than the US, according to  Dr Ian O'Donnell, Director of the Institute of Criminology at UCD and former IPRT Director.

In a paper shortly to be published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Dr O'Donnell points out Ireland had the second lowest number of prisoners in custody on an average day in 2006, with an imprisonment rate of 72 per 100,000 of the population. Only Norway, with 66 per 100,000, had a lower imprisonment rate.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Dr. O'Donnell  argues that the Department of Justice figures which estimate a need for 5,000 prison places by 2011 are simply wrong. On the contrary, his analysis shows that the number of prisoners and the committal rate peaked in 2004 and has since fallen. At the same time, there is growing public awareness that prisons are inappropriate places in which to detain people with mental illness, juveniles, fine defaulters and illegal immigrants. In other words, the demand for extra places is likely to diminish rather than increase.

In this context the proposes expansion of the prison "stock" of places cannot be justified.

"It could be argued that an opportunity exists for politicians and policy-makers to declare a moratorium on prison building and review the proposed further expansion of the prison system," he writes.

UCC to Host Major International Conference on Youth Justice

The Centre for Criminal Justice & Human Rights University College Cork, in association with the Children Acts Advisory Board, is hosting "Youth Justice 2008: An International Conference - Measuring Compliance with International Standards" on Thursday and Friday, 3rd and 4th April 2008. The Programme includes plenary presentations and workshops from academics, practitioners and policy makers from Ireland and all over the world.  For full details please see: http://www.ucc.ie/law/youthjustice2008

 

UK Prison Population Crisis

Britain's overfilled jails are at 'panic stations' as they lurch from crisis to crisis, the chief inspector of prisons warns in an Observer interview today that will make uncomfortable reading for the government.

At the end of a week in which the prison population rose above the critical 82,000 mark for the first time, Anne Owers said she was not sure how long the system 'can contain this kind of huge pressure'.

'It's very bad,' Owers said. 'As you hit each new peak, the prison system is bumping against a new crisis. For the last six months we've been looking at a system that moves from panic stations to just about containing crisis.'

She warned that disturbances within the prison system were rising as a result of overcrowding. 'My impression is the level of incidents in prisons is increasing - an indication of a system operating too near to the knuckle,' she said.

Owers normally confines her comments to her annual reports, but her decision to speak out reflects the level of concern about overcrowding. 'Prisoners are getting very frustrated; staff are struggling to survive the day. That's not a good recipe for running prisons. It's a very risky situation.'

She was scathing about the current situation, signalling that it was the fault of successive ministers. 'You wouldn't start from here if you wanted to create a decent prison system,' she said. 'This is a result of decisions taken - or not taken - a long time ago.'

The frank comments by the government-appointed Owers reflect growing concerns that the situation in Britain's jails is out of control. The Conservatives' prisons spokesman, Nick Herbert, said her comments should be a wake-up call for the government. 'Jack Straw [the Justice Secretary] must come to parliament tomorrow to explain how he is going to deal with this crisis of the government's own making and what provision he has made for emergency capacity,' Herbert said.

The prison population normally falls over the half-term period, when fewer judges are sitting. But it has risen for two successive weeks, leaving Straw forced to make a coded appeal to magistrates to consider alternatives to jail sentences.

Straw's dramatic intervention suggests the government has at least in the short term ruled out expanding the use of early-release schemes for prisoners, something it introduced last year in a bid to alleviate overcrowding. He suggested instead that magistrates hand down more non-custodial sentences.

But that call has prompted anger in certain quarters. 'We see big problems with provisions for both the prison and probation services,' said Cindy Barnett, chairman of the Magistrates Association. 'We already use community penalties far more than custody.'

The Probation Service warned that it did not have the resources to handle a sudden influx of offenders if they are diverted from prison to community sentences. 'Both probation and prison are full,' said Harry Fletcher of the probation officers' union, Napo. 'Unless the government finds funds to support probation and prisons, sentencing will be completely undermined.'

Experts suggest it is only a matter of time before the government is forced to release more prisoners early.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

US Prison Population now One in a Hundred

More than one in 100 adult US citizens now in prison

ED PILKINGTON in New York

US: More than one in a 100 adult Americans are in prison, a higher rate of incarceration than at any time in US history that is pushing the budgets of several states to breaking point, a report warns.

The Pew Centre on the States, a Washington-based research body, reveals that in 2007 the inexorable rise in the prison population saw the US cross what it calls a "sobering threshold". The number of prisoners in federal and local jails grew to 2.3 million, out of the country's adult population of 229.8 million, which gives a ratio of one in 99 adults behind bars.

When that statistic is broken down for different demographic groups, the proportion is even more startling. One in nine black men aged 20 to 34 is incarcerated.

It has long been known that the US has the most prison-happy approach to crime control in the world. China, with a population far greater than America's, comes in second with 1.5 million prisoners, and Russia third with 890,000.

But by comparing the prison numbers to the adult population, as opposed to overall population, the Pew report has underlined the crisis that is facing the country's tough approach to law and order. The report notes that nationwide, more than half of offenders who are released from jail are back inside within three years, either for new crimes or for breaking the terms of their probation.

The report also puts much emphasis on the fiscal crisis that a growing number of states are facing as a result of the incarceration policy. Thirteen states now spend more than $1 billion each on what they call corrections.

Last year, all 50 states between them spent $44 billion on running their prisons - an increase from $10 billion 20 years ago. Though Texas last year gained the undesirable distinction of being top of the incarcerations league in terms of numbers, with about 172,000 inmates, California remains the biggest spender, with total costs rising to $9 billion.

The outpouring has forced the state's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to slash other public services including schools with cuts that education leaders have warned could decimate the state's school system.

The report concludes that a "continual increase in our reliance on incarceration will pay declining dividends in crime prevention. Expanding prisons will accomplish less and cost more than it has in the past." -

© 2008 Guardian Service
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