While plans to address with urgency the chronic inhumane conditions at Cork Prison are welcome, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today (Wednesday, 12 June 2013) expressed serious concerns at the decision by Government to increase capacity at the prison, with plans for double occupancy of cells from the outset. This is completely at odds with recent policy recommendations to move away from penal expansion, and runs counter to the European Prison Rules which state that single occupancy should be the norm, and that double-occupancy of cells should only be used in exceptional circumstances.
Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
"Conditions at Cork Prison demand urgent action, and we support plans to rebuild the prison. Overcrowding, slopping out, and inadequate visiting facilities for families are among the critical issues but steps must be taken to address them now and cannot wait until 2015 when the new prison may be in operation. At an absolute minimum, numbers must be reduced to 146, which is the prison's design capacity, and toilet patrols implemented so that prisoners have access to proper toilet facilities at all times.
“Planning for double occupancy and increased capacity in the new prison is regressive and represents a missed opportunity to act on recent progressive policy developments, including the 'decarceration strategy' recommended by the Justice Committee in its Report on Penal Reform.
“Instead of increasing capacity at Cork Prison, we need an increased use of rigorous community-based alternatives, investment in probation and community services, an overall reduction of the use of imprisonment for less serious offences, and better reintegration supports on release to support a reduction in reoffending.”
IPRT has consistently identified chronic overcrowding and inhumane conditions in Cork Prison as among the most critical in the Irish prison estate, with multiple occupancy of cells, in-cell sanitation available in only 8 of its 144 cells, and inadequate medical and visiting facilities.
On its publication in Feb 2012, IPRT welcomed the Irish Prison Service strategy document Unlocking Community Alternatives - A Cork Approach (published 29 February, 2012) as a practical response to longstanding issues of intolerable conditions and chronic overcrowding at Cork Prison. The strategy document proposed the building of a new 150 cell prison with full in-cell sanitation on the site adjacent to Cork Prison. The strategy did not make any clear reference to multiple occupancy of cells.
There were 217 prisoners in Cork Prison on 13th June 2013, with an operational bed capacity of 210 (source: Irish Prison Service). The Inspector of Prisons has previously stated that the current Cork Prison should accommodate no more than 146 prisoners. In recent years, the prison has regularly held around 300 prisoners.
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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 (para. 96) and inadequate visiting facilities (para. 99). The CPT described a prisoner being forced to undergo withdrawal from heroin while subjected to slopping out in Cork (para. 75), and that prisoners did not receive a medical examination on admission at Cork (para. 68) Prisoners also reported only being able to access one shower and change of underwear each week.
- 4,100 people in prison on the occasion of the CPT’s 2010 visit to Ireland
- 4,225 people in prison custody on 12th June 2013. (Source: Irish Prison Service)
- 217 prisoners in Cork Prison on 12th June 2013. (Source: Irish Prison Service)
The Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT) reports on Ireland are available here.
2. Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice
On publication of the Report on Penal Reform, IPRT called on Government to adopt the ‘decarceration strategy’ recommended by the cross-party Sub-Committee on Penal Reform, which would see the prison population reduced by one-third over a ten-year period. Access the report here: Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality Report on Penal Reform (27th March 2013)
3. Thornton Hall Project Review
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”.
The Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice on 28 July 2011. The report is available here.
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.