IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Ebulletin #64

29th June 2011

In this edition:

  1. Introduction
  2. IPRT Annual General Meeting and Prison Law Seminar
  3. Beyond the Record: Spent Convictions Update
  4. Ireland’s First Periodic Review under UNCAT
  5. Update on Prison Numbers
  6. Inspector of Prisons: Annual Report 2010 and Guidance on Physical healthcare in a prison context
  7. TV3: Behind Bars
  8. IPRT in the News
  9. New Publication: Prison Policy in Ireland
  10. Upcoming Events

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1. Introduction

At the end of another extremely busy period for IPRT, we can look back on some ground breaking work from the Inspector of Prisons and some highly significant statements from the UN on Irish prison conditions. 

Much of our work during the last few months has also been focussed on the Thornton Hall Review Group.  Following our submission to the review, IPRT met with the Group in May and we are now anxiously awaiting the report of the Group which should be issued shortly (expected Friday 1st July, 2011.)  That report and the Government’s decision on it will be of profound importance to the future of Irish prison policy over the coming decades.  More details on this process will follow as soon as we have white smoke from the Review Group.

We can also look forward with great anticipation to this year’s IPRT Annual Lecture, which we are delighted will be given this year by Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence.  The Minister has set out an ambitious programme of reform and we are strongly supportive of many of the steps he has taken in his first few months in office.  His acceptance of our invitation to set out his vision of penal reform is greatly encouraging and the September event promises to be a fascinating evening.

On the legal front too, the recent High Court decision in Kinsella v. Governor of Mountjoy may be of great value in advancing prisoners rights through the courts and our Prison Law Seminar on June 21st will examine the potentail impact of this decision for prisoners and their representatives.  This event will coincide with IPRT’s AGM and will give all of our members an opportunity to reflect on another successful year for IPRT.

Finally, we would like to express our thanks to interns Colette Barry and Maggie Coughlan (author of this edition of the ebulletin) for their fantastic work with IPRT over the last 5 months, and we wish them both the very best of luck in their future endeavours.

Liam Herrick

Executive Director

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2. IPRT Annual General Meeting and Prison Law Seminar – Recent Prison Law Developments

The 2011 AGM of IPRT will take place on Thursday 21st July, 2011 in the Distillery Building on Church Street, Dublin 7. The AGM will be followed by the latest in our series of Prison Law Seminars focusing on two recent court judgments, from California and Ireland, which found that the constitutional rights of prisoners were being infringed by unacceptable prison conditions. More detailed information will follow shortly.

  • IPRT AGM: 3.30pm
  • Prison Law Seminar: 5.00pm

All members are encouraged to come along to the AGM for a full update on the activities of the year past and the year to come. (The Prison Law Seminar is open to all.)

IPRT is also delighted to announce that Minister Shatter has agreed to present IPRT’s Annual Lecture in September 2011. More information on this event will be made available in August 2011.

Not a member of IPRT?

Annual membership is just €20 for students, €40 for individuals, €80 for organizations/firms, and free to prisoners and their families.

We can’t promise you lots of free stuff, but by becoming a member of IPRT you will be expressing your support for urgent penal reform in Ireland.

Why not consider becoming an IPRT member now?


3. Breaking the Record: Spent Convictions

On 10th May, IPRT hosted the ‘Breaking the Record’ event with Bobby Cummines OBE from UNLOCK in the UK; Bobby spoke at two separate events, a private Oireachtas briefing in Leinster House and a public forum in Pearse St. Library. The public forum was a unique experience that shed light on the experiences of those who live with criminal convictions.  Ireland currently has neither spent convictions legislation nor anti-discrimination legislation for ex-offenders, and IPRT is calling for this issue to be rectified.

Spent Convictions Update:  

IPRT has welcomed Minister Shatter’s plans to publish a ‘new improved’ Bill before the Dáil breaksfor summer recess.  On 11th May, Dara Calleary TD introduced the Spent Convictions Bill 2011 as a Private Member’s Bill. It had previously been published by then TD, Barry Andrews, and was adopted as a Government Bill in 2007. The Private Member’s Bill was debated at Second Stage on Tues 7th and Wed 8th June and received positive support from many members of the Dáil. 

Maureen O’Sullivan TD highlighted the importance of second chance legislation for prisoners: “We do not want to leave those who offend thinking there is no point in trying to change. We give prisoners the right to vote, but we do not give them enough chances to get themselves back into the community where they can play a meaningful role.

Sean Kenny TD also commented that “this Bill is very much a step in the right direction for citizens in Ireland” including that many of those people with minor convictions have not been in contact with the criminal justice since and still face barriers to employment and education.

The journal.ie reported on 17th June that the Bill: “has actually been published by Fianna Fáil and backed by the Government as an interim measure." IPRT welcomes the return of Spent Convictions debate to the Dáil chambers, and will continue to campaign strongly for the passing of robust and effective legislation.


4. Ireland’s First Periodic Review under UNCAT and Concluding Observations

Last month, Ireland was examined for the first time under the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT). IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick and Research &  Policy Officer Jane Mulcahy travelled to Geneva, along with representatives of other civil society groups, to present the Joint Shadow Report on Ireland’s First Periodic Review under UNCAT  which was published jointly by the ICCL and IPRT, to members of the Committee. The report was launched on 20th May and highlights the Government’s inactions in relation to a number of human rights violations; it also includes fifty clear recommendations to rectify these failings.

The CAT hearing was broadcast LIVE by IPRT/ICCL online; the recording can be watched here.

In Geneva, the UN Committee against Torture put questions to the Government representatives present on topics including slopping out, the Magdalene Laundries, extraordinary rendition and the lack of an independent complaints mechanism for prisoners. The Government delegation, which included Secretary General of the Dept. of Justice Seán Aylward and Director General of the Irish Prison Service Brian Purcell, then responded to the Committee’s questions.

On 6th of June, the UN Committee published its Concluding Observations on Ireland’s first review, and made recommendations to ensure the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. The Committee expressed serious concern over the absence of an independent complaints mechanism for prisoners and children detained in St. Patrick’s Institution alike, as well as the unacceptable level of overcrowding, the high frequency of inter-prisoner violence, the prevalence of drugs, gang feuds and the use of special cells.

The recommendations included:

  • introduce new non-custodial alternatives to prison in order to reduce prison numbers
  • ensure the separation of remand and sentenced prisoners
  • end the practice of imprisoning children in St. Patrick’s Institution and to proceed ‘without delay’ on the new detention centre at Lusk
  • investigate incidences of racial abuse against the Traveller Community in prison

The Committee also made comments on extraordinary rendition, investigations of abuse in institutional care, corporal punishment and female genital mutilation. The concluding observations can be accessed here.


5.  Update on Prison Numbers

On 22nd June 2011, the number of people in custody in Irish prisons was 4,433. According to figures provided by Minister Shatter, Wheatfield is now the largest prison in the country holding 683 prisoners; however, Midlands is set to become Ireland’s largest prison when an additional 300 places come on stream mid-2012:

  • In Mountjoy Prison, 32 men were held in cells of 5+ people; 20 in cells holding 4 people; and 30 in cells holding 3 people. Approx. two-thirds of prisoners in Mountjoy have to slop out. However, works are currently underway to install in-cell sanitation in 100 cells in the C wing, with an expected completion date of end summer 2011.
  • Cork Prison is still one of the most overcrowded in Ireland in Ireland with 305 prisoners held in a space that should hold no more than 146, according to the Inspector of Prisons; only 8 of Cork Prison's 144 cells have in-cell sanitation. Of the 29 men held in cells accommodating three prisoners, all have to 'slop out' in the same cell where they eat meals.
  • The Dóchas Centre held 129 prisoner, which was down from 140 - but this is still 50% above design capacity; the conversion of an administration block into dormitory-style accommodation will see the prison's capacity increase by 70 this year. Limerick female prison was holding 35 women in a space designed for 24, which means it is running at 145% capacity; conditions are vastly inferior to those in the Dóchas Centre.

More details are available here. The Thornton Hall Review Group is due to complete their report on whether to proceed on building the planned super-prison this coming Friday, 1st July.


6.  Inspector of Prisons: Annual Report 2010 & Guidance on physical healthcare in a prison context

The Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly published two key reports at the end of May 2011.

In his Annual Report 2010, the Inspector stated that he was to take on a more ‘robust’ role in which he would address the inadequacies which yielded from his inspections. The report highlighted previously unreported issues about Castlerea and Limerick prisons, which he found to be dirty and in need of repair. The Inspector also highlighted the need for drug free units in all prisons, designated committal areas, and high-support units for vulnerable prisoners.

In his ‘best practice’ report, Guidance on Physical healthcare in a prison context, the Inspector reports on a particularly shocking account of a mentally ill prisoner detained inappropriately in a special observation cell, who could not be transferred to the Central Mental Hospital due to a shortage of beds. Welcoming the report, IPRT restated that the holding of mentally ill prisoners in prison, which is a completely inappropriate environment for people with mental health issues, must end.

Both reports can be accessed here.


7. TV3: Behind Bars

TV3 recently broadcast a 4-part documentary on the history and development of Irish prisons. The series, narrated by journalist Donal McIntyre, is an insight not just into the development of Irish penal policy, but also how Irish prisons are managed and handled today.

IPRT Director Liam Herrick featured prominently, discussing topics such as prison overcrowding, problems relating to Mountjoy and the prevalence of drugs in prison. Other contributors included former Mountjoy governor, John Lonergan, former prison officers and prisoners themselves. The concluding episode discussed the challenges that lie ahead for the Prison Service, including how to break the cycle of offending and the importance of rehabilitation.

Click here to watch Behind Bars.


8. IPRT in the News

  • On 1 May, an article in The Sunday Times entitled ‘The web never forgets’ explored the issue of recent EU attempts by individuals to control what is said about them on the internet. Liam Herrick is quoted in the articleIPRT believes access to such information should be limited where a conviction has been deemed spent and the person no longer has a duty to disclose the conviction." A separate article in the same newspaper also highlighted the significance of the Spent Convictions Bill and how it could aid those who’s past convictions block them from some forms of employment.
  • On 10 May, Bobby Cummines (OBE) was interviewed on Today FM’s The Last Word about his contribution to the IPRT ‘Breaking the Record’ event.
  • On 16 May, The Irish Times reported on the Joint shadow report of Ireland under the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which was co-written by IPRT and ICCL, and included a number of recommendations from the report on the article.
  • On 30 May RTÉ Nine News broadcast a report on the Inspector of Prisons’ Annual Report 2010. Liam Herrick appeared in the broadcast calling for appropriate resources and systems to be put in place for the Inspector and the IPS.
  • On 6 June, RTE.ie reported on the conclusions of the UN Committee against Torture and highlighted some of the recommendations made to the government. Liam was quoted in the article emphasizing that the Committee “…has made clear that an independent system for investigating complaints by prisoners is the most important protection against potential mistreatment of persons in detention." thejournal.ie also reported on the concluding observations, including Liam’s comment that “…the Committee has issued specific directions to the Government to address the contributing factors such as the availability of drugs, the existence of feuding gangs, lack of purposeful activities, lack of space and poor material conditions; including a call to investigate allegations of racism against Traveller prisoners."
  • On 10 June, The Irish Examiner reported on the Inspector of Prisons’ latest standards report Guidance on Physical Healthcare in a prison context. IPRT was quoted in the article as stating “that the Inspector has found seriously mentally ill prisoners continuing to be accommodated in inappropriate settings is a national scandal of the gravest nature."
  • On 12 June 2011, IPRT featured in the Irish Daily Mail in relation to the admittance and swift release of prisoners sentenced for fine default. Liam Herrick described the practice as “damaging and wasteful’.

For a full list, click here.


9. New Publication: Prison Policy in Ireland - Politics, Penal-welfarism and Political Imprisonment

IPRT would like to congratulate Dr. Mary Rogan on the publication of her new book: Prison Policy in Ireland: Politics, Penal-welfarism and Political Imprisonment. Mary is a lecturer in DIT in the School of Social Science and Law, and she also is the chairperson of IPRT’s Board of Directors. The book is a history of the development of prison policy in Ireland since the foundation of the state. It promises to be a very interesting read, as well as a good resource for students of criminal justice and criminology in Ireland and abroad.

The launch of her book will take place on 30th June, 2011 at 6.45pm in Kilmainham Gaol. For more information or to rsvp, please contact law@dit.ie


10. Upcoming Events