IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Protection Prisoners on 23 hour lock up regime

10th October 2010

Throughout the Irish prison system 308 inmates are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.  Over half of these prisoners (153) are currently being housed in Mountjoy prison. These individuals are considered to be "at risk" from other prisoners because of gangland feuds, drug debts or evidence they gave against former associates.  

The Irish Prison Service has stated that the actual number of "protection prisoners" in the system is even higher but that some could be catered for in a "more humane fashion".  The Irish Prison Service Annual Reports from 2008 and 2009 show that the number of protection prisoners is increasing.  In 2008 832 prisoners were on protection and this rose to 972 prisoners in 2009.  In some extreme cases, prisoners were under such a threat that they were allowed no contact with other prisoners.  Many requested to be placed on protection out of fear of the consequences of events that occurred in the outside world.  The Inspector of Prisons, in his Annual Report 2008, described the “existence of gangs in Irish society” as a “huge cause of intimidation and violence amongst prisoners.”

The Inspector of Prisons also noted in his Annual Report 2008 that approximately 25% of the juvenile prison population in St Patrick's Institution were on protection at any one time.    The use of single separation of children for reasons of protection, which can involve up to 23 hours lock up with limited access to education, physical activity, and association, is of very serious concern.  As far back as 1985, the Whitaker Report assessed St. Patrick’s Institution as totally inappropriate for holding children in custody; the Institution was assessed as having a “demoralising effect” and the conditions of detention as potentially leading to “the psychological deterioration of the young offenders”.  Over twenty years later, in 2006, the CPT expressed their concerns about the continuing use of St. Patrick’s Institution, which the Committee considered to be “unsafe” for the children and staff alike.

The imprisonment of juveniles in St Patrick's Institution and the continuing segregation of both children and adult offenders for reasons of protection continues to be of serious concern throughout the Irish prison system.

Read More:

  • Fr Peter McVerry's criticism of the 23 hour lock up regime at Mountjoy prison in the Tribune.
  • Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2008.
  • Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2009.
  • Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2008.
  • Report to the Government of Ireland on the visit to Ireland carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2006).