It is International Human Rights Day 2010, and 30% of prisoners in Ireland are still 'slopping out' - the chronically overcrowded prisons at Cork and Mountjoy included - despite assurances since 1992 that this grim, degrading practice would be eliminated.
This means that of the 4,440 people who were in custody in Irish prisons on 30th Nov 2010, over 1,330 will have been subjected to 'slopping out' - many sharing cells with 1-4 others, the same cells where the men also eat their meals.
Is this the road to the rehabilitation and successful reintegration of offenders back into society?
In England in Wales, it took just 5 years from the time of the Woolf Report to eliminate* the practice of slopping out. Considering the relative size of the prison systems, the only obstacle to ending this practice in Ireland - over the past 18 years, and counting - must surely be political will; the political will so recently cited as seriously lacking by the Prison Chaplains.
IPRT believes that recent court judgments have opened the possibility of future successful legal challenges of slopping-out in overcrowded Irish prisons, and should force the State to consider all possible ways of eliminating this practice as soon as possible.
Of those prisons in Ireland where 'slopping out' persists, on 7th Dec 2010:
- There were 697 people in custody at Mountjoy Prison, 434 of whom were in shared cells.
- In Cork Prison, of 320 in custody, 308 were in shared cells - none of whom would have access to in-cell sanitation.
- In Limerick Prison (male), of 296 prisoners, 224 were in shared cells; there is no in-cell sanitation in 2 of the 4 blocks.
- And in Portlaoise Prison, where slopping out still persists in some areas, there were 107 prisoners sharing out of a total of 258.
The Government has announced an 11% increase in the Prisons capital budget for 2011; IPRT fervently hopes that these resources will be invested in the updating of ill-suited prison accommodation, including provision of in-cell sanitation across the existing estate, and that it will not be channelled further into the 'white elephant' solution of Thornton Hall.
Also on International Human Rights Day, it is worth focusing on Ireland's ongoing practice of imprisoning children at St Patrick's Institution, which contravenes international human rights standards. It is critical that work proceeds on the National Children Detention Facility at Oberstown in Lusk, to which boys will be removed from St Patrick's. Despite Minister Ahern's assurance that this project is to proceed in 2011, budget estimates reveal that the Irish Youth Justice Service will receive just €500,000 towards capital projects in 2011 (€8.2m in 2010.)
Ireland failed to bring to an end to two serious human rights breaches - slopping-out in prisons and the imprisonment of children - during the boom years. What hope now?
- IPRT Blog: 'When society fails to act' (April 2010)
- IPRT Position Paper: Human Rights in Prison
- Irish Examiner: 'Prison chaplains’ report - A scandal of betrayal and neglect' (Dec 2010)
- Inspector of Prisons: 'The Irish Prison Population - an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners' (Oct 2010)
*'Slopping out' still exists in England & Wales, according to a 2010 report from the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards, which found that there is no in-cell sanitation in 2,000 cells (the entire prison estate accommodates around 85,000 prisoners). Where in-cell sanitation is not available an electronic system is available for night time needs. However, excessive queuing and limited access time cause further unplanned problems.