Devastating report - and still a denial of the level of the problem

11th February 2011

As IPRT members and friends will be aware, this week saw the publication of perhaps the most damning report yet on our prison system from the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture.  The report presents a forensic and devastating account of violence, overcrowding, unhygienic cell conditions, grossly inadequate healthcare and a lack of accountability for staff accused of mistreatment of prisoners. 

In the context of this damning account of a failure by the Irish authorities to address the problems in our prison system over an 18 year period (this is the fifth report by this committee since 1993), it is disappointing that the Prison Service would choose to respond by underplaying the level of the problems in the system.

IPRT has consistently stated that efforts being taken by the Irish Prison Service to address the issues cannot succeed unless Government take control of the overcrowding situation; the overcrowding frustrates any attempts to tackle the serious problems outlined in this report.

It is worth recalling the CPT’s first report on Ireland, published in 1995, refers to the then Government “Five Year Prison Plan”, which would prioritise the ending of slopping out.  Today, 16 years later, all (close to 300) prisoners in Cork prison still slop out;  around 500 in Mountjoy; 50 at the Training Unit and 100 in Limerick to a total of 1,000 prisoners – more or less the same number as in the early 1990s. The fact that new prison buildings which were put in place over the past twenty years have in-cell sanitation is not something to celebrate; the fact that pilot schemes for camping toilets have been started in Mountjoy in recent months is not a cause for celebration either.

IPRT fully acknowledges the work of the Irish Prison Service in the management of many of our newer prisons, where constructive regimes and modern cell-conditions provide a constructive prison environment for prisoners, and where most international standards for detention are being met. 

However, over the last 18 years, Government attitude to international and domestic reports on our prison system has been to delay publication of reports, or to deny the level of problems, to blame external factors, and to ask the public to accept that new buildings will solve the problems within the system.  The Prison System is like any other area of Irish public life: the only way to solve the problem is to acknowledge the level and nature of the problem and take it on. 

This report is shocking by any standards. We sincerely hope that the next Government will finally grasp that nettle and if it does so it will have our sincere support.

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