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Whole of Government approach needed to address gap between human rights commitments and prison realities – IPRT

27th June 2016

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading campaigners for progressive reform of Ireland’s penal system, welcomed the publication today (Monday 27 June 2016) of the 2015 annual reports for the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, but warn that commitments to safer communities can only be met by a ‘whole of Government’ approach to offending and reoffending, along with improved public accountability through regular publication of criminal justice data and prison inspection reports.

IPRT particularly welcomes the clear commitments included in the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2016 - 2018 to an ethos of human rights and equality, and the Trust recognises the great strides that have been made since 2011 towards addressing the most serious human rights abuses in Irish prisons.

However, serious failings persist, particularly in the areas of physical and mental health care in Irish prisons, and an over-reliance on 22-hour lock up to ensure prisoner safety. Inter-agency co-operation between the Departments of Justice and Equality, Health, Social Protection, Education, and Jobs and Skills is crucial to both reduce the number of people being committed to prison and to improve outcomes for prisoners on release.

Speaking on publication of the reports and strategy statements, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

“Prison cannot solve the social issues that exist outside prison walls, and a ‘whole of Government’ approach is needed to tackle offending and reoffending. Cross-departmental work is nowhere more urgent than in the area of prison health and mental health, to address serious deficiencies in prison healthcare provision and ensure that people with serious mental health issues do not end up in prison in the first place.”

“IPRT urges An Tánaiste and Minister Harris to work together to establish a comprehensive review of prison health, with urgency, and to endorse the recommendation of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture that prison healthcare services be brought under the responsibility of the Department of Health and operated by the HSE.”

She continued:

“Concerted efforts by Government and the Irish Prison Service have seen serious human rights issues such as ‘slopping’ out and chronic overcrowding addressed in most prisons. However, the lack of adequate healthcare, detention of people with serious mental health issues, high levels of violence, and chronic over-reliance on 22-hour lock up for prisoner safety, means that we are still a long way from meeting minimum human rights standards in Ireland’s penal system.”

“The dearth of information available on the day-to-day realities of prison conditions and regimes is highly problematic. To be fully accountable to the general public, regular inspections of all prisons must take place with the reports published regularly, and the data on which criminal justice polices are developed must be made public.”

On publication of the annual reports and strategy statements of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, IPRT calls for a 'whole of Government' approach to prevention of offending and reoffending, including the establishment of:

  • an Oireachtas sub-committee on crime prevention (involving justice, education, social policy, health, jobs);
  • a standing inter-agency group of senior Departmental officials responsible for crime prevention (involving justice, education, social policy, health, jobs); and
  • the development of inter-agency protocols around sharing of data, expertise, and responsibility for offending and reoffending.

IPRT further reiterates its previous calls:

  • Review of Prison Health: IPRT calls on the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD and the Minister for Health Simon Harris TD to work together, with urgency, on establishing a review of prison health towards addressing the serious deficiencies which exist.
  • Improving Accountability: IPRT calls on the Government to progress, without delay, ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OP-CAT), and to establish effective National Preventative Mechanisms (NPM) under the Protocol, a monitoring mechanism in which the Ombudsman could play a role, together with the Inspector of Prisons and reformed and strengthened Prison Visiting Committees.

For further comment and/or an interview with IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone, please contact: Fíona Ní Chinnéide on 087 181 2990 


1. Irish Prison Service / Probation Service annual reports

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Ms. Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., launched a number of reports and strategy documents on Monday 27 June 2016:

  • Irish Prison Service Three Year Strategic Plan –Creating a Better Environment - 2016 – 2018
  •  Irish Prison Service Communications and Engagement Strategy 2016 – 2018
  • Irish Prison Service Psychology Strategy 2016 – 2018
  • Irish Prison Service and Education and Training Boards Ireland Joint Education Strategy 2016 – 2018
  • Irish Prison Service Capital Strategy 2016 – 2021
  • Probation Service Annual Report 2015
  • Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2015

All of the reports are available on www.justice.ie, www.irishprisons.ie and www.probation.ie

2. Prison Visiting Committee Annual Reports 2015

On Fri 24 June 2016, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald published the 2015 annual reports of all 14 prisons. See: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Prison-Visiting-Committee-Annual-Reports-2015

3. What is the OPCAT?

Ireland signed the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) in October 2007, but has yet to ratify it. Ratification of OPCAT would require the establishment of a National Preventative Mechanism: a national detention monitoring body, which has multidisciplinary expertise – including health – and which is fully independent of Government, with financial autonomy. For a clear explanation of the OP-CAT, see: http://apt.ch/en/what-is-the-opcat/

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.

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