On 29th June 2017, Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan TD, introduced an amendment to Rule 27 (1) of the Prison Rules 2007 to 2017. This amendment means that all prisoners are entitled to two hours out-of-cell time, and shall have “an opportunity during that time for meaningful human contact, including, at the discretion of the Governor, contact with other prisoners”.
IPRT welcomes this amendment to the legislation in the context where there are currently 44 people in prison being held in solitary confinement, with a small number spending prolonged periods of 1 year or more in isolation. Solitary confinement is defined under the UN Standards Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) as a prisoner confined for ‘22 hours or more a day without meaningful contact’.
The amendment sets out what meaningful human contact entails with the insertion of Paragraph 3:
“(4) In this Rule, “meaningful human contact” means interaction between a prisoner and another person of sufficient proximity so as to allow both to communicate by way of conversation.”
This amendment came into operation on the 3rd of July 2017.
IPRT strongly welcomes the inclusion of meaningful human contact in the legislation. While the amendment does not go so far as to specify a minimum length of time for meaningful human contact, it is a significant step in the right direction and acknowledges the importance of human contact to a person’s physical and psychological health.
IPRT is currently working on an IHREC-funded project ‘Towards Abolition of Solitary Confinement in Ireland’ which will be launched in late 2017. IPRT believes that Ireland should be in compliance with the UN Mandela Rules, where the practice of solitary confinement should only be used as last resort, should be completely prohibited for certain groups (including young people and people with mental health issues) and should never exceed a period of 15 days.