Today, Thursday 1st December, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Clare Daly TD, the Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016 was debated in the Dáil, and proceeded to committee stage. IPRT strongly welcomes the attention that is being paid to this serious issue.
The Bill, if passed, will create a definition of solitary confinement in Irish law for the first time, and would place statutory restrictions on holding prisoners in isolation for long periods.
The issue of solitary confinement has become increasingly urgent of late. In an article by Thedetail.tv’s Niall McCracken published on 24th October in The Irish Times, it was revealed that on January 1st 2016, 51 people in Irish prisons were being held in solitary confinement for 22 hours or more a day. 24 of these had been held in solitary confinement for more than 100 days, and 9 had been held for more than a year. This was the first occasion on which information has been released as to the length of time people in Irish prisons spend in solitary confinement, and the information seriously concerns IPRT.
IPRT's Acting Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated in the article that;
"For years, there has been a lack of clarity around the lengths of time that individual prisoners are being held on 22- or 23-hour lock-up. Finally, we have the information, but the figures give cause for serious concern.
"Balancing prisoner safety with humane prison regimes is a difficult challenge for all prison systems – but locking up individuals for long periods of time cannot be the answer. We believe the practice can and should be abolished in Irish prisons."
In addition, a recent report on an announced visit to Maghaberry Prison in September 2016 raised acute concern at the accommodation of men with complex needs in solitary confinement for long periods of time, stating that; "A small number of men with intractable problems were still spending very long periods in segregation with a poor regime, which risked the deterioration of both physical and mental health. This detention amounted to solitary confinement."
To help address this serious issue, IPRT has secured funding from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to pursue an evidence-based research and awareness campaign towards the abolition of the use of solitary confinement in Ireland, and finding alternative solutions.
Ireland is due to be examined by the UN Committee against Torture in July 2017. In The Irish Times article on 24th October, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez stated,
"Clearly the figures show Ireland has violated the emerging standard that we have established in terms of how long people should be spending in solitary confinement. The Irish Government should be aware that this issue will be raised when the UN committee hears evidence. So they should come prepared to say how they are dealing with this problem."
and recommended that the State develop an alternative to solitary confinement to deal with prisoners requiring protection.
The Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016 was scrutinised by the Joint Committee for Justice and Equality on 15th February 2017.
- IPRT Briefing: 'Solitary Confinement, Isolation, Protection and Special Regimes'
- Irish Prison Service: Census of restricted regimes October 2016
- Thedetail.tv: 'United Nations criticises long-term solitary confinement of prisoners in the Republic of Ireland'
- IPRT: 'Media round-up on the release of figures on solitary confinement in Irish prisons'
- Private Member’s Bill (Clare Daly TD): Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016
- Dáil Debate of Private Member’s Bill (Clare Daly TD): Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016
- Joint Committee for Justice and Equality: Scrutiny of Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016 transcript
- Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland: 'Report on announced visit to Maghaberry Prison 5-7 September 2016'
- The Howard League for Penal Reform: 'Preventing Prison Suicide'
- IPRT Invitation to Tender: Abolishing Solitary Confinement in Ireland