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Two-tier prison system demands immediate action by Minister for Justice on accountability – IPRT

12th September 2014

IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY

On the publication of two reports by the Inspector of Prisons today (Friday 12 September 2014), the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign organisation, has called on Minister for Justice and Equality, Ms Frances Fitzgerald TD for immediate action on Government commitments to strengthen accountability in prisons, and to introduce an effective, fully independent prisoner complaints mechanism such as a Prisoner Ombudsman.

The reports suggest a two-tier system is very much in operation in the Irish prison system, where real progress is being achieved in some areas of the prison system, while conditions and practices in other areas are of grave concern.

In his Report of investigations into the deaths of prisoners in custody, the Inspector finds recurring issues around managerial oversight of Standing Operation Procedures; the Inspector also identifies obstacles to his investigations, including statements from prison staff which were “minimal in content, misleading and in certain cases inaccurate.”

In his Overview of Mountjoy Prison Campus with particular emphasis on the Separation Unit, the Inspector describes “unacceptable conditions” in the Separation Unit, and concludes that it must be closed with finality, and decommissioned. In addition, he finds the continued detention of a small number of boys in St Patrick’s Institution is “at times, tantamount to holding them in isolation and it is certainly inhumane.”

Issues identified in relation to the Separation Unit include:

  • The practice of holding prisoners in areas which are not designed as accommodation areas, such as recreation areas;
  • Broken windows, broken toilets, no screens, "discarded razors in an old toilet beside the showers";
  • Prisoners using chairs as tables to eat meals, while one prisoner "could only use the floor", which was filthy;
  • Virtually no education for the prisoners;
  • Recreational amenities virtually non existent;
  • Inadequate visiting conditions;
  • Only one hour’s access to yards, and no natural light on landings where prisoners walk

Responding today, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

“It is shocking that we are again seeing reports that detail serious human rights violations behind prison gates, from the ongoing detention of children in St. Patrick’s to conditions so poor in the Separation Unit of Mountjoy that the only appropriate recommendation is for closure of the facility. More worrying is the emergence of an apparent two-tier prison system – while the main prison at Mountjoy has been improved in recent years, prisoners detained in the Separation Unit are enduring appalling conditions.

“In the same week that Ireland condemned inhuman and degrading treatment in prisons on the international stage at the UN, we see a dark corner of our prison system revealed. Ireland’s international commitments to respecting human rights in prison must be met with fully accountable, independent and robust domestic monitoring mechanisms, including a Prisoner Ombudsman.

A truly independent complaints mechanism would help to ensure that prisoners can make complaints without fear. It would also foster wider public confidence in the prison system.”

On investigations into deaths in custody, she further commented:

“The Inspector of Prisons clearly identifies systemic issues which must be addressed, including non-existent or deficient line management structures, failure to implement Standard Operating Procedures, and poor record keeping. The Irish prison Service must implement the Inspector’s recommendations in full across the prison system, and not only in those prisons where individual deaths occurred, so that potential future deaths can be avoided.”

“The Inspector of Prisons has previously identified limitations in his powers of investigation into deaths which occur in prison, and in relation to serious complaints. IPRT calls on the Minister for Justice to progress the ‘Inspection of Places of Detention Bill’ with urgency, in order to address any limitations in prison monitoring and accountability, ratify the OPCAT, and ensure Ireland meets its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

IPRT was responding to the publication of two reports by the Inspector of Prisons: Report of investigations into the deaths of prisoners in custody and an Overview of Mountjoy Prison Campus with particular emphasis on the Separation Unit, both published on Friday 12th September 2014.

For further comment or an interview with Deirdre Malone, please contact: Fíona on 087 181 2990

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Reports issued by the Inspector of Prisons

IPRT was responding to the publication of two reports by the Inspector of Prisons: Report of investigations into the deaths of prisoners in custody and an Overview of Mountjoy Prison Campus with particular emphasis on the Separation Unit, both published by the Minister for Justice and Equality on Friday 12th September 2014. The reports are available on www.justice.ie

2. Inspection of Places of Detention Bill

The Programme of Government (March 2011) committed to strengthening the powers of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons. The drafting of a General Scheme of ‘Inspection of Places of Detention Bill’ was approved on 17 May 2011, but remains on the ‘C’ list of legislation.

The legislation is intended to give legislative effect to the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture), strengthen the Office of the Inspector of Prisons, put the Council of Europe inspection regime on a statutory footing, and address matters relating to Prison Visiting Committees. See: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Taoiseach_and_Government/Government_Legislation_Programme/SECTION_C11.html#sthash.MrNXHPGb.dpuf

3. IPRT on Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons

Monitoring and inspection of places of detention, as well as the establishment of an independent external mechanism for the review of prisoners’ complaints, are central to the protection of human rights of prisoners and form part of Ireland’s obligations under international law.

The IPRT Briefing on Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons is available here: http://www.iprt.ie/files/IPRT_Complaints,_Monitoring_and_Inspection_in_Prisons_26062012.pdf

IPRT Position Paper 7: Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons is available here: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/1466

4. IPRT on Investigations of Deaths in Prison Custody

In section 2.2 of the IPRT Position Paper 7: Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons IPRT clearly sets out the requirements of independent investigations into deaths in prison custody, including:

  1. the investigation must be undertaken on the State’s own initiative
  2. it has to be capable of leading to a determination of responsibility and the punishment of those responsible;
  3. the investigation has to be independent both institutionally and in practice;
  4. it must be prompt;
  5. the investigation has to allow for sufficient public scrutiny to ensure accountability;
  6. and the next-of-kin has to be allowed to participate in the process.

See IPRT Position Paper 7: Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons

5.  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.

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