IPRT has today welcomed the Irish Prison Chaplains Annual Report for 2010, and calls on Government to heed this objective voice working on the ground within the prisons, and act on the recommendations contained within the report.
Describing Ireland's prisons policy as a "disaster", the chaplains' report is strongly critical of the Dept of Justice, the Irish Prison Service and the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern. The media also comes under censure for its sensationalisation of some prisoner releases.
This grim report on conditions in the country’s prisons states that violence and drug use are continuing to escalate in prisons and overcrowding is adding to inhumane conditions. The report says “conditions in many of our prisons are an insult to the decency of any human being and an affront to the basic tenets of decency,” and they say a culture of conformity exists within the system which resists any criticism or challenge.
There are 27 prison chaplains, priests, religious and lay people, working in 14 prisons in Ireland. They work every day with men and women who are imprisoned, and their families.
Fr Ciarán Enright of the chaplaincy team in Arbour Hill Prison said, “It is frustrating and depressing to have to come out with similar reports year after year, with little or no sign of any positive action being taken by those in charge.” He said chaplains blame a politicisation of the criminal justice system, which is failing to address the real issue of crime and prevention.
According to the report, overcrowding was so serious this year that on one night during the summer, 129 prisoners in Mountjoy had no beds to sleep in and some did not have a mattress to lie on.
The report also says leaks to the media concerning prisoners are “destructive of their attempts to manage their sentences and to resettle in the community." It singles out the management and leaks around the release of rapist Larry Murphy in particular, saying it resulted in a "media circus" which fuelled fear and anxiety in society.
In addition, St Patrick’s Institution for young people and children (16 to 21) is highlighted as a cause of serious concern.
The report recommends the pressing need to explore non-custodial options for prisoners who have committed less serious offences. It concludes “Current prison policy is a disaster for both prisons and society. Making our prisons safer and drug free is in everyone’s interest. The only obstacle is political will."