In this two-part series of articles, Cormac O'Keefe details his experiences on a visit to Cork Prison. The articles elaborate on a wide range of topics which affect the lives of prisoners. These include the practice of slopping out, education and training regimes, protection regimes, visiting facilities, the perspective of prison staff, and the new Cork Prison.
An article from January 2nd ('Prisoners are human beings [...]') includes the views of Governor James Collins on current prison conditions, overcrowding and prospects for the future in a newly-built Cork prison. The Governor also discusses staff-prisoner interaction and his overall philosophy on the warden's role - '“Our job is not to punish people, but to care and contain them."
Criticism since 2005 from within and without the prison system about conditions in Cork Prison is detailed in a time-line (Litany of Problems at Cork Prison) of its recent history. This includes, from within, ministerial and IPS statements, and from without, statements from the Inspector of Prisons, the Visiting Committee and the Council for the Prevention of Torture.
The series also includes an article and an opinion piece on the continued high use of imprisonment in Cork Prison for offenders who have failed to pay fines. Both Governor Collins, and the Head of the Prison Service Michael Donnellan were against the imprisonment of fine defaulters. The Governor described the extensive man-hours he has to commit to processing fine-defaulters for short-term sentences. Instead, he continues, prison should be '... for those who are dangerous and a risk to society'.
New Cork Prison
Finally, the series looks at the development of a New Cork Prison adjacent to the site of the current one, through an interview with Michael Donnellan. Mr. Donnellan does express a differing opinion to advocacy groups, such as the Irish Penal Reform Trust, about the use of doubling-up in cells in the new prison. However, Mr. Donnellan echoes the arguments of the IPRT when he favours of the locating of the new prison in a major population centre, rather than along the lines of the proposed 'super-prison' at Thornton Hall in North County Dublin and its sister-project at Kilworth, near Fermoy. Furthermore, he argues that “Prison is not for people who have minor infractions with society" and criticises the use of imprisonment for punishing fine defaulters.
January 1st, Irish Examiner
January 2nd, Irish Examiner