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Ebulletin #65

25th August 2011

  1. Introduction
  2. IPRT Annual Lecture, 16th September 2011: Minister Shatter
  3. Thornton Hall Review Report
  4. Prison Law Seminar: Prison Conditions as a Constitutional Issue
  5. Culture Night 2011
  6. Ireland and the UPR
  7. IPRT in the News
  8. Upcoming Events

1. Introduction

Since the last ebulletin there have been a number of positive developments. In July, IPRT welcomed the passing of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) No.2 Bill. Since its establishment in 1994, IPRT has consistently called for a greater use of community sanctions as a more appropriate, cost effective and less damaging response to less serious offences. The passing of this Bill brings IPRT's vision of a penal system where imprisonment is used only as a last resort closer to reality. There are also positive signs that Spent Convictions legislation might become a reality this year. A Private Members’ Bill, which debated in June, received support from all parties, and it is hoped that the Government will publish its amended version of the Bill when the Dáil returns in September.

At the end of the July, the much anticipated Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published. The report contains many principles that could be welcomed, although it retains the core proposal for a medium-security prison on the Thornton Hall site. This year’s IPRT Annual Lecture, which takes place on 16th September 2011, will be given by Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, will offer an opportunity to hear more about the conclusions of the report. Full detailsbelow.

The Annual Report 2010 of the Probation Service was also published in July 2011. Although the report fell under the radar of most media, it highlights some very positive developments in areas such as community service reform and the development of links with community organisations, along with a rise in the number of community service orders carried out (1,972 in 2010 - up from 1,667 in 2009 and 1,413 in 2008.) The Probation Service has stated that it has the capacity to carry out upwards from 5,000 community service orders within its current resources, so we hope that the passing of the recent community service legislation will see this alternative to custody fully employed.

Other event news includes a report on the recent Prison Law Seminar on ‘Prison Conditions as a Constitutional Issue’, which was a resounding success. We heard an inspiring presentation from colleagues at the Prison Law Center in California, who fought a long and ultimately successful battle all the way to the US Supreme Court to force California to address its overcrowding crisis by releasing prisoners.  We also heard a passionate analysis from Michael O’Higgins SC about the current prospects for prison litigation here.  We hope that the successes of the Prison Law Center and also recent cases in Ireland will inspire more prison litigation here; and Michael certainly has put it up both lawyers and activists to step up our efforts to advance prisoners’ rights through the courts.

In July, we welcomed Áine Kilgallon to IPRT. Áine is working with IPRT as fundraising consultant, and she can be contacted at: fundraising@iprt.ie

Finally, we would like to express our thanks to Nóra Ní Loinsigh, who has been working with IPRT during July and August on our summer internship placement; we wish her the very best of luck in her studies. We are delighted to welcome interns Lisa Mannion and Sarah Lynch, who will be working with the team from September until January 2012.

Keep up to date on IPRT news and activities between e-bulletins:

W: www.iprt.ie / Tw: www.twitter.com/iprt / Fb: www.facebook.com/irishpenalreformtrust

2. IPRT Annual Lecture – keynote address to be delivered by Minister Alan Shatter

IPRT is delighted to announce that Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, will deliver the 2011 IPRT Annual Lecture. This will take place on Friday 16th September, 2011 at 6pm in the Presidents’ Hall, Law Society of Ireland, Blackhall Place, Dublin 7.

Alan Shatter was re-elected to Dáil Éireann in 2011 having represented Dublin South Constituency in Dáil Éireann since 2007 and previously from 1981 until 2002. Alan has held various positions on the Fine Gael Front Bench over the years. These include Spokesperson on the Environment, on Health, on Labour and on Defence. He has on a number of occasions been Fine Gael Spokesperson on Justice and Law Reform. He was again appointed Fine Gael Front Bench Spokesperson on Justice and Law Reform in July 2010 having previously been Front Bench Spokesperson on Children since 2007. He has published more legislation in the form of Private Members Bills from the opposition side of the Dáil than any other deputy elected to Dáil Éireann in the history of the State and has been an advocate of radical legal, social and environment reforms throughout his career.

Minister Shatter will set out his vision for the development and reform of penal policy under the Fine Gael – Labour coalition Government.The evening will be chaired by Judge Catherine McGuinness and the Questions and Answers session with the Minister will be hosted by Colm O’Mongáin, editor and presenter of RTE’s This Week programme. A drinks reception will be held after the annual lecture. 

Would you like to support the work of IPRT? Annual membership is just €10 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. Thornton Hall Review Report & Reactions

The Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice on 28th July 2011. While the report includes many principles which are to be welcomed, including the unequivocal message that overcrowding “will not be solved solely by building more prisons”, it ultimately recommends that the prison go ahead on the site, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. IPRT is highly concerned that in the absence of a commitment to close unsuitable prison accommodation, any new prison building projects amount to penal expansion. (The report recommends that a smaller block of 300 cells (capable of holding up to 500) plus a further 200 spaces in ‘step-down’ facilities; the report acknowledges that Mountjoy Prison will not be closed in the short- or medium-term.)

IPRT has 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.) While a number of these issues are addressed within the proposals – the Dóchas Centre will remain on its current site; young offenders will not be transferred there; and the CMH is not to be co-located on the prison site – IPRT continues to be concerned about size, location and plans to double-up from the outset.

Furthermore, the basis for the prison number projections on which the plans for expansion are framed is unclear. Penal policy should dictate prison numbers; prison numbers should not dictate policy. Recent legislation (the Fines Act 2010, the Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2011) along with proposals for structured early release are positive steps towards reducing overcrowding. The Government now needs to set safe custody limits, as recommended by the Inspector of Prisons, and take control of the situation.

Read more:

4. Prison Law Seminar: Prison Conditions as a Constitutional Issue

The 2011 AGM of IPRT took place on Thursday 21st July, 2011. The AGM was 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. Sean Gillane SC chaired the Seminar, which heard from Michael O'Higgins SC, and Don Specter and Sara Norman, Director and Managing Attorney respectively of the Prison Law Office (CA). The presentations from the event are available here.

The Prison Law Seminar series is hosted jointly by Irish Penal Reform Trust, the Irish Criminal Bar Association and the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association, and seminars qualify for Continuing Professional Development for both solicitors and barristers.

We are very grateful to MacGuill & Company Solicitors for sponsorship towards this event.

5.  Culture Night 2011

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) will hold a free event as part of Culture Night on Friday 23rd September, 2011. Right now, all we can confirm is that a tour of Kilmainham Gaol will be part of it – and some refreshments too. Check back for more details in September! Read about the IPRT ‘Auld Triangle Walk’ as part of Culture Night 2010 here.

6.  Ireland and the UPR

Following the submissions of IPRT and other groups to the Working Group on Universal Period Review of the UN Human Rights Council, the UPR Stakeholder’s Report was published on the 10th of August.

IPRT’s submission was quoted in relation to the extension of the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman for Children to include individual complaints from children in detention and in prison. IPRT’s call for the amendment of the Employment Equality Act 1998 to include discrimination on the basis of a previous criminal conviction was also included in the report. The Report also referenced submissions from the Irish Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, as well as IPRT and others, which reported on the unsatisfactory prison conditions in Ireland. It referred to overcrowding; lack of sanitation, notably slopping out; poor health care and inter-prisoner violence as particular concerns. The IHRC’s recommendation that non-custodial sentencing be developed and that remand and sentenced prisoners be separated was also referred to in the report.

The First Periodic Review of Ireland will take place in Geneva on 6th October, 2011.

Read more:

7. IPRT in the News

  • On 29th June Liam Herrick represented IPRT on TV3 Midweek to discuss imprisonment for non-payment of fines, in particular dog licenses. He pointed out that we are still waiting for the Fines Act 2010 to be fully commenced, in particular the provisions relating to payment by installment, which have been delayed due to the inability of the Courts Services ICT system to process the payments. (Item begins at 17mins 30).
  • On 20th July Michael O’Higgins SC and two former prisoners appeared on RTÉ Today with Pat Kenny to discuss prison conditions prior to IPRT’s Seminar on “Prison Law as a Constitutional Issue”.
  • On 26th July the Evening Herald published an article concerning the low levels of treatment in prison for those convicted of sexual offences. IPRT featured in the article commenting on the impact of overcrowding in Irish prisons; which is that services such as treatment and rehabilitation cannot be meaningfully engaged with without reducing the numbers in custody.
  • The Report of the Thornton Hall Review Group was released on 28th July and IPRT  featured in a  number of newspaper reports commenting on the report. The Irish Times included a comment from Liam Herrick which welcomed the recognition of certain principles, such as a commitment to human rights standards; to reducing prison numbers and to the need to create incentivised regimes towards open prisons.  The Irish Examiner also quoted IPRT’s press release on the Thornton Hall Report. The Human Rights in Ireland Blog highlighted IPRT’s concern over the expansion evident in the plans in the Report if older prisons are not closed when others opened. IPRT’s concerns over the lack of commitment to close Mountjoy were also discussed byThe Irish Times on the 5th of August.
  • On 8th August IPRT’s Chairperson Mary Rogan appeared on RTÉ News At One to discuss plans for early release of prisoners by the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. She pointed out the serious overcrowding and conditions of detention in prisons in Ireland, stating that early release of long term prisoners can only be one aspect of a broader penal and sentencing policy which will divert people away from prison. She also appeared on FM104 and LMFM discussing the issue. IPRT’s Research and Policy Officer Jane Mulcahy appeared on RTÉ Nine News to discuss the early release proposals and highlighted the overcrowding of Irish prisons as people continue to be imprisoned for low level offences such as failing to pay fines. On 11th August Clare FM Morning Focus featured Fíona Ní Chinnéide, IPRT’s Campaigns and Communications Officer in a discussion on Fines and Prison overcrowding in Ireland.
  • Also on 11th August the Medical Independent published an article by June Shannon examining the human rights of prisoners in Ireland with mental health issues. The comprehensive article examines recent inspections, including that of the CPT; recent mental health reports in Ireland and also details comments made by a number of groups and individuals with expertise in the area, including IPRT. 
  • On 13th August IPRT’s recommendation that the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman for Children be extended to include complaints from children in detention and in prison was published in The Irish Times  in an article detailing some of the submissions made to the UN Human’s Rights Council for its upcoming Periodic Review of Ireland.

For a full list and links, click here.

8. Upcoming Events

viewed here