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MEDIA ADVISORY: IPRT welcomes Thornton Hall review report as a “a new departure” for Irish penal policy but remains concerned at “creeping penal expansionism”

28th July 2011

MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust, Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign group, has today welcomed the Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group as a new departure in Irish penal policy which reveals a dramatic shift in thinking around Ireland’s response to offenders. IPRT particularly supports the Group’s recommendations for a strategic review of all aspects of penal policy, along with the acknowledgment - for the first time - that overcrowding cannot be addressed through prison building.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“The broad thrust of the Review Group report is positive in that we see a clear recognition of some key principles – the importance of meeting basic human rights standards, the need to reduce the prison population, and the need to create incentivised regimes where prisoners can aspire to progress to open facilities if they engage with rehabilitation, treatment and education.

“The clear recommendations in the report that overcrowding and the intolerable conditions at Cork and Mountjoy need to be addressed as quickly as possible are hugely significant.

“Crucially, we are seeing encouraging signs of a shift to a more coherent approach to prison policy and planning.  There are still fundamental questions for Government to answer about what prison is for and how it can develop long-term strategies to avoid prison crises in the future, but after decades of prison expansion and the lack of effective policy, we hope this report signals a new departure for Irish penal policy.”

At the same time IPRT expresses concern that the report still appears to accept that there will be further prison expansion in the medium term.  While the report recommends a scaling-down of the original proposals for a large prison at Thornton Hall, it also describes the significant expansion already going on across the system, to which IPRT is opposed:

“As we submitted to the Review Group, IPRT recommends that any new prison building to address poor prison conditions must be matched by a commitment to closing unsuitable prison accommodation.  While IPRT welcomes the emphasis on improving prison and regimes and a recognition of the danger of large prisons, significant questions remain about other current prison building projects which will see the Midlands Prison increase its capacity to 916, while Wheatfield Prison now accommodates 700 prisoners.

“In IPRT’s submission to the review group we urged the group to exhaust all options to reduce the prison population before considering any new building. We continue to call for strong leadership from Government to ensure that the proposals in this report to reduce the prison population and reduce our reliance on imprisonment are resourced and effective.”

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust

T: + 353 1 874 1400          E: communications@iprt.ie

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. IPRT comment on specific aspects of the report:

Recognition of the Primacy of Human Rights: IPRT welcomes the Group’s unequivocal message that overcrowding “will not be solved solely by building more prisons”. The Group’s statement that the deplorable physical conditions and overcrowding levels in Cork and Mountjoy “expose the State to significant reputational, legal and financial risk” are highly significant.  Following years of scathing CPT reports, as well as reviews by the Inspector of prisons and most recently the Committee Against Torture’s concluding observations on prison conditions, IPRT agrees with the Review Group that “doing nothing” is not an option.

Open Prison and Progression: While IPRT has questioned the suitability of remote, rural locations for prisons on numerous occasions in the past, IPRT is broadly supportive of the proposals that the two new prisons at Thornton Hall and Kilworth should contain a mix of accommodation, including open centre type step-down facilities similar to the houses in the Grove area of Castlerea prison, aimed at delivering more effectively on the principles of normalisation, progression and reintegration.  

Need to Reduce the Prison Population: IPRT views it as a positive step that the Report refused to accept that the prison population “must continue its upward spiral and that the only response to increases in the prison population should be to build more and more prisons.” The Group’s emphasis on alternatives to custody, in tandem with the potential for home detention and an incentivised scheme (including community service) for early release is progressive. As part of a package of measures to reduce the prison population while ensuring public safety, IPRT has previously recommended incentivised early release as a way to reduce prison numbers in a safe and structured manner.

Need for Coherent Penal Policy: The Report acknowledges the fact that “neither penal policy, nor the practical issue of the provision of prison places exists in a vacuum”, a point strongly made by IPRT in its submission to the Review Group. IPRT has consistently made the point that there is a need for a coherent crime policy, which joins the dots between the need for prevention and early intervention strategies, principled sentencing policies, alternatives to custody (including gender-specific models for women) and meaningful reintegration supports.

Cork Prison: IPRT welcomes the commitment to address conditions at Cork Prison. With occupancy running at over 200% of its design capacity, in-cell sanitation available in only 8 of its 144 cells, and completely inadequate medical facilities (which received particular criticism from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture), Cork Prison is completely unfit for purpose.

Dóchas Centre: IPRT welcomes the decision to retain the women’s prison on its current site at the Dóchas Centre, but considers plans to proceed with an additional 70 places as ill-judged. Overcrowding at the Dóchas Centre must be tackled with urgency, but through diverting women imprisoned for less serious offences to community-based or home settings, where addictions and mental health needs can be addressed.

Children in St Patrick’s Institution: While IPRT welcomes the Review Group’s recommendations for transitional arrangements, funds must be made available to proceed at the earliest with the building of the first phase of the National children Detention Facility in Lusk and thus end the imprisonment of children at St Patrick’s Institution. IPRT is concerned at statements made by Minister Fitzgerald yesterday (27 July 2011, EPIC report launch) that there is no timeframe for the completion of the new facility, and resources have yet to be made available.

Accountability: IPRT strongly supports moves by the Minister for Justice to strengthen and enhance the oversight of the prison system by the Inspector of Prisons. However, there remains an urgent need to establish an independent complaints mechanism for prisoners, as recommended by national and international reports including the CPT and the UNCAT.

2. IPRT engagement in the Thornton Hall Review Process

IPRT has been opposed to the building of a large mixed-security prison on the Thornton Hall site from the outset; we have consistently raised our objections to the project on the basis of size, location, security-levels, and plans to co-locate facilities for young offenders, women offenders, those detained under immigration law, and the Central Mental Hospital (as was originally proposed.)

In July 2008, IPRT made a submission on the proposed prison project to the Oireachtas Justice Committee, and published a position paper, IPRT Position Paper 1: Thornton Hall.

In May 2011, IPRT made a written submission to the Review Group on Thornton Hall. In June 2011, IPRT met with the Review Group to discuss our submission. The IPRT submission, which includes detailed recommendations, is available here.

The Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice on 28th July 2011. Many of the points raised by IPRT during the process are reflected in the final report. The report is available here.

3. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.