• Print
  • Email author
  • Bookmark and Share

Ebulletin #46

7th July 2008

We are happy to circulate to you our second e-bulletin for 2008, reporting on our AGM and Annual Lecture and addressing some of the main recent developments including developments on the proposed new prison at Thornton Hall.

Strategic Plan 2008-2010 Approved by AGM

At the IPRT Annual General Meeting for 2008, the Trust's Strategic Plan for the period 2008-2010 was approved unanimously.  Our Director and Board have worked tirelessly on the plan over the past six months and have been aided in our work by an experienced consultant Kathryn Heslin, to whom we are extremely grateful for giving so generously of her time. In preparing this Plan we have consulted widely with our membership and with the main actors in the Irish penal system. The Plan will bring further coherence to the work of the organisation while also setting out ambitious but achievable goals and tasks to be pursued over the course of the next three years. It is intended to set the path for the work that we will do in the coming years and to inform the growth of the organisation.

As part of this process, the Constitution of the IPRT has been amended to reflect our new mission statement, which states:

"IPRT is committed to reducing imprisonment, respecting the rights of everyone in the penal system and progressive reform of the penal system based on evidence-led policies. IPRT will achieve these goals through research, raising awareness, building alliances and growing our organisation."

Anne Owers presents IPRT Annual Lecture on Prison Inspection

Following our AGM on May 19th IPRT was honoured to welcome Anne Owers, Chief Inspector with Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales to give the IPRT Annual Lecture 2008.  Ms. Ower's addressed the sizeable audience of IPRT members and friends on her experience of inspecting places of detention in Britain over the past seven years, during which time she has made a huge contribution to establishing a robust and effective inspection system.  The lecture was well received and a lively question and answer session followed.  IPRT has identified prison accountability as a policy priority in its Strategic Plan and we hope that the successes of HM Inspector of Prisons will provide a sound and proven precedent for the evolution of the office of the Inspector of Prisons here under the leadership of the new Inspector Judge Michael Reilly.

IPRT Position Paper on Thornton Hall

On June 4th, IPRT made an oral presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Justice Committee on the issue of the proposed new prison at Thornton Hall.  At that meeting, IPRT also circulated copies of it's Position Paper on the Thornton Hall project. The Position Paper outlines the main concerns we have about the various aspects of the project, including the potential for the increase in prison spaces to stimulate an expansion in the prison population.  On June 24th IPRT was invited to a briefing with the Irish Prison Service about the current plans for the Thornton Hall Prison.  We will continue to engage with the Irish Prison Service as this project develops and we hope that at least some of our concerns will be addressed in the planning and design of the prison should it go ahead.

Our concerns about the prison project were also set out by IPRT Director Liam Herrick in an opinion article in the Irish Examiner published on May 27th.

IPRT sets out objections to Thornton Hall

Prison Plans Need Debate

Today the Dáil will debate the proposed construction of the largest prison in the history of the State at Thornton Hall in North County Dublin.  The proposals to close the four existing prison units at the Mountjoy site and Cork prison and replace them with two new prison complexes at Thornton Hall and Kilworth in Cork represent the most significant development in the Irish prison system for a generation.  Regrettably, to date this unprecedented capital project has not been the subject of substantial public debate. 

Government statements on the rationale behind the project have emphasised the need to address the current poor conditions in Mountjoy men's prison and in that respect the commitment to invest in modern and humane prison conditions is to be welcomed.  Mountjoy and St. Patrick's Institution were identified as not being fit for human habitation by the Whitaker Committee in 1985 and conditions in those prisons as well as in Cork, Limerick and Portlaoise have been the focus of consistent criticism from the Inspector of Prisons and international bodies such as the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture.  The long overdue decision to replace some of these unsanitary, overcrowded and violent institutions is deserving of praise.

However, recognition that something needed to be done about existing prison conditions does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the present proposals for Thornton Hall are the answer.  At present the four prisons at the Mountjoy site have an official capacity of approximately 963 - although official "operational capacity" figures mask overcrowding that results from shared cells. From the information that has been made public, it appears that Thornton Hall will have capacity for 1400 prisoners initially, and already there has been reference to having a potential capacity of 2200 if cells "double-up" in the future. 

No demographic or criminological evidence has been evinced to show why the significant expansion of prison capacity in needed and such an increase in the prison population could have long-term repercussions for wider criminal justice policy in Ireland.  International experience tells us that if prison places are built, over time ways are found to fill them.  In Ireland, for example, the construction of a remand prison at Cloverhill has meant a significant increase in unconvicted prisoners detained in remand and the prison population of England and Wales has almost doubled in the past fifteen years with no significant impact on levels of crime. 

The rationale for choosing to build large prisons at remote locations is also unclear.  All over Europe, the trend is towards smaller regional prisons, which are more conducive to fostering a rehabilitative atmosphere and where it easier to segregate different categories of prisoners.  Prison "warehouses" on an American scale have been seen to pose security and regime difficulties on a scale that our prison staff have no experience of dealing with.  Questions also need to be asked about how will a public-private partnership operate in maintaining and running a prison.  Again, the international evidence on private sector involvement in running prisons is not encouraging and recent experience here has raised questions about Government capacity to control these projects.

There are particular problems with how the new prisons will impact on certain specific groups of prisoners and detainees.  Reports of plans for a large immigration detention facility at the site signal that Government may be planning to increase detention of asylum seekers at a time when asylum seeker numbers have been consistently dropping.   Despite longstanding commitments to remove all children from our prison system, it seems that contingency plans exist to transfer the minors currently detained in St. Patrick's Institution to Thornton Hall if suitable alternatives are not in place by 2012.  The proposed co-location of a prison with a relocated Central Mental Hospital presents obvious difficulties for those providing medical care to the mentally ill.  Perhaps most surprisingly there are also plans to replace the Dóchas Centre, a state of the art women's prison built only ten years ago, with a new women's prison with twice as many prisoners at an isolated location away from inmates' families. 

In relation to all of these groups of potential detainees in the new prison, fundamental questions remain unanswered.  We hope that the new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will now facilitate a much-needed public consultation around this issue of critical public interest.  As a baseline, there must be no place at Thornton Hall for children, the mentally ill or for migrants who have not committed crimes.  A smaller Thornton Hall restricted to housing those men currently in Mountjoy with guaranteed single cell occupancy would mark a positive resolution to the longstanding need for a modern, humane and secure prison for adult men to replace Mountjoy.  Unfortunately, as currently conceived there is a real danger that Thornton Hall could mark the beginning of a drift towards expensive and counter-productive warehousing of offenders with long term detrimental effects for Irish society.

Liam Herrick is the Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).  IPRT is non-governmental organisation committed to reducing imprisonment, respecting the rights of everyone in the penal system and progressive reform of the penal system based on evidence-led policies.

IPRT to attend UN Examination of Ireland's Rights Record

The UN Human Rights Committee will examine Ireland's human rights record in Geneva on July 14th and 15th.  Ireland's third report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights will be scrutinised by the expert committee and IPRT will attend the hearing to provide objective information on the Irish prison system to the Committee.  In advance of the hearing IPRT, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Free Legal Advice Centres have produced a comprehensive shadow report which provides an alternative analysis of the current protection of human rights in Ireland.  This report will be launched at the Westbury Hotel, Dublin at 10am on July 14th coinciding with the beginning of the examination process in Geneva.  The report will be available at www.iprt.ie from July 14th and all of the Geneva proceedings can be followed at www.rightsmonitor.org, a dedicated website which will be live from July 10th.  Ireland's third report under the Covenant and the list of issues which the UN Committee will focus on can be seen at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/index.htm  

First Prison Law Seminar a Success

On April 29th, IPRT held its first Legal Practitioners' Seminar at Bar Council, Distillery Building on the theme of legal representation in prison disciplinary proceedings.  The seminar is intended to be part of an ongoing series jointly organised by IPRT, the Irish Criminal Bar Association and the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association.  The two speakers were Chris Callender, Howard League and Paul Anthony McDermott BL, author of Prison Law.  The seminar was a considerable success with an attendance of over 65 participants and was followed by a short reception. There was a strong consensus that the series should be continued and the next seminar is planned for autumn 2008.  We expect to announce details during August.

Irish Examiner runs Series on Life in Irish Prisons

From May 13th to 16th the Irish Examiner ran a series of in-depth articles looking at the Irish prison system.  The series highlighted many of the shortcomings of the system, which IPRT has identified in recent years.  In a lead article by Cormac O'Keeffe, the main journalist behind the series, the current levels of violence within the prison system is unveiled.  IPRT believes that the Cormac's series of articles will make an important contribution to aising public awareness of the reality of life within Irish prisons today http://archives.tcm.ie/irishexaminer/2008/05/13/story62563.asp

All of the articles are available through www.examiner.ie and http://archives.tcm.ie/index.asp.

Drug Policy Action Group publishes report on Drugs in Prison

On Monday June 23rd the Drug Policy Action Group (DPAG) published a comprehensive policy paper on drugs in prison.  The paper was prepared by Dr. Paul O'Mahony of Trinity College and founder member of IPRT.  IPRT is currently represented on the DPAG by its Director Liam Herrick. 

Mental Health Groups oppose Thornton Hall Plans

A coalition mental health and human rights groups has come together to oppose the planned re-location of the Central Mental Hospital to the Thornton Hall as part of the develop of that site by the Irish Prison Service.  On May 29th a joint publication prepared by Schizophrenia Ireland, the Central Mental Hospital Carers Group and the Irish Mental Health Coalition was launched setting out the case against the transfer of the Hospital. IPRT is fully supportive of the coalition as we accept the research presented by mental health groups and clinicians that the proposal is not in the best interests of patients or their families.  More information on the campaign against the move can be obtained from Schizophrenia Ireland at http://www.sirl.ie

Upcoming Events

On July 14th and 15th Ireland's human rights record will be examined by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva - details will be available on www.rightsmonitor.org

On July 23rd-25th the Howard League for Penal Reform will host the International Conference on Prison Abolition in London - details available at www.howardleague.org

The Association for Criminal Justice Research and development will host its annual conference on the topic of Minorities, Crime & Justice on October 9th and 10th 2008 -details at www.acjrd.ie

viewed here