The Irish Penal Reform Trust strongly welcomes the Irish Prison Service strategy document published today (29 February, 2012) as a practical response to longstanding issues of intolerable conditions and chronic overcrowding at Cork Prison. While a Government decision is still required to move ahead with the replacement of the existing Victorian building, the plan outlined today represents a positive vision for addressing some of the most acute problems in the Irish Prison System.
The strategy document, Unlocking Community Alternatives - A Cork Approach, proposes the building of a new 150 cell prison with full in-cell sanitation on the site adjacent to Cork Prison, with works to be completed by spring 2015. The strategy also proposes: prioritising current unacceptable prison conditions, a halt to penal expansion, an increased use of community-based alternatives, an overall reduction of the use of imprisonment, and for prisoners to be accommodated near their families and communities, which assist better reintegration on release. All of these elements correspond to what IPRT has been advocating for over the last 18 years, and were included in our recommendations for a revised prison building strategy, as submitted to the Thornton Hall Review Group in May 2011.
IPRT has constantly identified chronic overcrowding and inhumane conditions in Cork Prison as among the most critical in the Irish prison estate, with occupancy regularly running at 200% of its design capacity (just under 300 prisoners in accommodation designed for 150), in-cell sanitation available in only 8 of its 144 cells, and inadequate medical facilities.
Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
“IPRT recognises that there are severe resource constraints facing the Minister and the Irish Prison Service, and, in that context, we believe that the proposals contained in this strategy document are reasonable and realistic. The inclusion of community service groups working in the Cork area in the consultation process also demonstrates a fresh and co-ordinated approach to engagement with the wider social issues connected with crime.
“IPRT particularly welcomes the clear commitment to increase the use of community-based alternatives to imprisonment. However, it is crucial that there is proportionate investment in probation and community services, alongside investment in regimes and education within the prison, to ensure the successful implementation of what IPRT believes is a progressive strategy.
“At the same time, a question mark remains over provision for female prisoners in the Munster region now that plans for the new prison in Kilworth are in effect shelved. Limerick Female Prison is among the most overcrowded in the prison estate, and unfit for purpose. Accommodating mothers far from their families in the Dóchas Centre has a seriously detrimental impact on their children, and compounds the negative cycles of disadvantage that lie behind much crime.
“While the Minister for Justice has indicated that he favours the proposed strategy, IPRT hopes that a formal Government decision on these proposals can be made quickly, and that a fully detailed and time-lined plan will be made public. Among the outstanding issues which IPRT will be seeking further information on are the need for a detailed strategy for addressing some of the most serious problems at Cork while the new building is under construction, including the need for adequate visiting facilities for families attending the prison."
For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with Liam Herrick, please contact: Fíona Ní Chinnéide on 087-1812990
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. CPT findings on Cork Prison
During its visit to Ireland in Feb 2010, the CPT found plastic bags being used as toilets (para. 41), unacceptable dirty segregation cells (96) and inadequate visiting facilities (99). Prisoners also reported only being able to access one shower and change of underwear each week.The Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT) reports on Ireland are availablehere.
2. Thornton Hall Review Group report (July 2011)
On publication of the Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group in July 2011, IPRT particularly welcomed the commitment to address conditions at Cork Prison. IPRT also welcomed the Group’s unequivocal message that overcrowding “will not be solved solely by building more prisons” and 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” as highly significant.
In May 2011, IPRT made a written submission to the Review Group on Thornton Hall, available here.
The Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice on 28th July 2011, 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.