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Irish Times: Saturday interview with outgoing Governor Kathleen McMahon

8th May 2010

In the Saturday Interview in The Irish Times, Kathy Sheridan interviewed outgoing governor of the Dóchas Centre, Kathleen McMahon, who recently resigned having run "a model prison for women" which was then undermined. Sheridan writes: "That she retired in frustration at deteriorating conditions seems like carelessness on someone’s part."

In the interview, Kathleen McMahon details her increasing frustration at how the regime was changing through external pressures being applied, and describes how she spoke out "for the sake of the women’s prison, not for me. It had to be dealt with..." The article reports how this "new pressure from above was unwarranted and intolerable."

She describes the majority of women prisoners has having "very low self-esteem and dreadful lives," something which can be addressed through positive activities in the prison environment. Gov McMahon criticises the media for its unbalanced fascination with women prisoners, and the mockery of, for example, their training in trades such as hairdressing.

The Governor also addresses the differences between male and female prisoners: “The big difference is that women don’t need as much security. Yet most prisons here were designed for men by men. [...] They have a choice of open and closed prisons. If you’re a woman, you have no choice. It’s Dóchas or a wing in Limerick prison, which is just grim."

She describes how Dóchas is a committal prison, where people are coming and goingwhich should be very unsettling, yet very seldom do you hear of assaults and there is no segregation:

"It’s said that when men go to prison, they leave their problems outside. When I looked out my office window, the majority of those visiting the men were women – partners and wives who keep the home and family intact until the man comes out. When women come to prison, a lot of the time the partners are gone when they come out."

She also describes how at a Christmas party a couple of years ago, it was noted that 18 young women had died within a year of leaving the prison. That women prisoners frequently live in terrible conditions at home is made clear.

Read the Irish Times article in full here.

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