Further alarming rise in prisoner numbers requires immediate and co-ordinated response, warns IPRT
Responding to the publication today of the Irish Prison Service’s Annual Report for 2010, the Irish Penal Reform Trust has called on government to set safe custody limits, and commit to taking control of prisoner numbers with targeted policy measures.
Once again, the annual report discloses a further significant increase in prisoner numbers over the year with a 10% increase in the daily prison population and a 15% rise in sentenced committals. This continues a steady increase over the past 6 years from 5,088 sentenced committals in 2005 to 12,487 in 2010. IPRT believes the situation today is even worse than disclosed in this report as the figures in the report are 8 months out of date and the number of prisoners in custody and on temporary release have continued to rise during 2011.
While there has been a decrease in the number of the longest category of sentences, the report points to two key factors causing this increase: (i) an alarming number of persons being sent to prison for sentences of three months or less; and (ii) a continuing steady increase in persons receiving sentences of 5-10 years, many in relation to drug offences.
Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
“Ireland cannot build its way out of the overcrowding crisis, as acknowledged in the Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group (published 28th July 2011). It is increasingly clear that we must target measures to reverse the dramatic increase in our prison numbers. The fact that the Minister recognises this reality in his statement today is hugely significant.
It is important to acknowledge that this report reflects the operational activities of the prison service, who have been placed in an impossible position trying to receive increasing numbers while maintaining safe and humane custody for inmates. IPRT believes that there is an urgent need to set safe custody limits for the individual prisons to make clear that Prison Governors can no longer be expected to fulfill these two conflicting roles.
Then we must focus attention on the policy context for this deepening problem and the continuing lack of wider crime policy which would set goals for restricting the use of imprisonment as a sanction of last resort and at a more modest and affordable level.”
While we need much more detailed information about sentencing trends, this report once again points to the need to end the use of short sentences. High numbers on temporary release demonstrate that there are people who could be safely diverted towards other sanctions, such as community service and restorative justice. However, IPRT remains very concerned that the Fines Act 2010 has still not yet been fully implemented while the Courts Service ICT system awaits the necessary upgrade to facilitate payment of fines by instalment.
Equally importantly, there is a clear need to look at the increase in the number of persons serving mid-long sentences, many of who we believe could be safely released earlier under supervision. These figures also demand a serious review of whether our drugs sentencing laws are being effective in addressing the supply of drugs or whether they are filling our prisons with low-level figures in the drug trade. The government needs to commission projections based on policy changes such as: diversion of those addicted to substance misuse to treatment facilities; increased remission; and an end to mandatory sentencing under s. 15A.
While the dominant feature of the report is the emphasis on statistics and the number of prisoners, the report also contain important information about the day-to-day running of the system and the quality of detention. IPRT welcomes the improved quality of information contained in the report in this regard.
- The report indicates a very worrying increase in the level of violence within the prison system, reflecting findings of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. IPRT believes this is a critical problem within the system and is inextricably linked to the worsening overcrowding problem.
- The report points to the initiation of refurbishment work at Mountjoy to end the practice of slopping out in one wing of that prison. The first stage of that project was due to be completed by mid-2011 and a full progress report on this project would be most welcome. Ending slopping out must be an urgent priority for the Government.
- Improvements in relation to prison visiting and health care are significant. However, given the recent TB outbreaks in several prisons, it is crucial that health screening at committal stage is carried out rigorously to stop the spread of the disease among prisoners and staff. It is crucial that detailed medical records are kept and that vaccines for communicable diseases are administered according with community best practice. The overcrowded nature of Irish prisons highlighted in the report also has an impact on the availability of day to day services within the prison. Services such as education, health, drug treatment and mental health may be affected by increasing prisoner numbers and increases in violent incidents in prison may also be related to overcrowding.
- In response to recommendations from the Inspector of Prisons, there have been improvements in accountability of prison officers, although it is clear that prisoners do not have confidence in the internal complaints system, as evidenced by the low levels of recorded complaints. IPRT repeats its call for the establishment of a independent complaint mechanism.
On the publication of the IPS Annual Report 2010, IPRT is calling on Government to:
- The Minister for Justice and Equality should set safe custody limits for all prisons in line with health and safety standards for prisoners and staff and with the recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons.
- Conduct a thorough and systematic review of sentencing to establish the reasons and patterns of the growth of prison population, with particular focus on the efficacy of mandatory sentencing.
- Maintain the levels of investment in prison health and drug treatment over recent years and make greater targeted investment in reintegration support and resettlement.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2010
The report is available for download here.
2. Latest prison figures, current prison capacities:
- There were 4,433 people in prison custody in Ireland on 22nd June 2011.
- The number of prisoners in custody reached 4,587 on 12th April, 2011 (the highest number recorded.)
- Of the 4,397 prisoners in custody on 17th December 2010, 1,003 prisoners had to slop out and a further 1,866 had to use in-cell toilet facilities in the presence of others. (See Dáil Question, 27 January 2011)
- Prisoner numbers have increased from 2,180 prisoners in 1990 to 3,151 as recently as 2005, with an accelerating rate of increase to the current level.
- The occupancy of each prison on 22 June 2011, based on design capacity (as identified by Inspector of Prisonsand based on figures given in a Dáil Question, 23 June 2011.
- Arbour Hill 116%
- Castlerea 124%
- Cloverhill 102%
- Cork 209%
- Dóchas Centre 152%
- Limerick Male 158%
- Limerick Female 146%
- Loughan House 71%
- Midlands 124%
- Shelton Abbey 90%
- St Patrick’s Institution 93%
- Training Unit 124%
Note: Mountjoy Prison is not given here as the capacity is reduced whilst renovation works are underway. However, crowding at that prison has been running at over 125% of its design capacity of 540, with 680-700 prisoners consistently held there, rising to 720 on occasion.
3. Minister Shatter to deliver IPRT Annual lecture: 16th Sept 2011
IPRT is delighted to announce that Minister Shatter will present IPRT’s Annual Lecture on Friday 16th September, 2011 at 6pm. The event will take place in the Presidents' Hall, Law Society of Ireland, Blackhall Place, Dublin 7.
4. 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.