Second annual report on standards in Ireland’s penal system finds little progress in key areas
IPRT calls for urgent action on prisoners’ mental health, female incarceration and prison staffing.
The lack of adequate mental health services, the increasing number of women being detained in prison and insufficient daily prison staffing levels, resulting in reduced access to educational provision, are just three of the issues identified in a new report published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today (26.10.18).
Entitled ‘Progress in the Penal System 2018’ (PIPS 2018), the report is the second in a series of three annual reports benchmarking progress in Ireland’s prison system. It provides a comprehensive analysis of progress within the last 12 months in meeting human rights, and includes examples of ‘progressive practice’, both domestically and internationally.
IPRT’s first report, PIPS 2017, was published in October 2017 and details 35 standards against which the prevailing situation is being independently tracked, monitored and assessed over a three-year period. Standards cover a wide range of penal policy areas, including use of community sanctions, prison conditions, regimes, oversight and accountability mechanisms, safety and protection, and reintegration.
Commenting on the report, Executive Director of IPRT, Deirdre Malone said: “When we launched the inaugural PIPS report last year, we set out a clear vision for the future of Ireland’s penal system and committed to measuring progress year-on-year against 35 standards which we believe the State must meet. This year’s report shows that while some limited progress has been made, the overall findings are disappointing and indicate that the majority of identified areas still need urgent attention.”
Of the 35 standards assessed, three were classified as having progressed; four as having regressed; no change was registered in 13 cases; 10 standards were classified as ‘mixed’, indicating that there has been progress towards the standard in some areas and regress away from it in others; while in five cases sufficient or adequate data to make a reliable assessment of progress towards the standard was unavailable.
Standards assessed in PIPS 2018 include:
- Regress: Imprisonment as last resort. There has been a net increase in the rate of imprisonment from 79 per 100,000 in May 2017 to 83 per 100,000 in July 2018.
- No change: Mental healthcare. Consistently, there are 20–30 prisoners with severe mental illness awaiting transfer to the Central Mental Hospital. There is only one ‘designated centre’ to receive forensic patients and a new facility at Portrane is unlikely to meet projected need.
- No change: Out of cell time. Approximately 13% of the prison population is on a ‘restricted regime’, with 68.6% of those on 21-hour lock up (July 2018). In January 2018, only 23% of the prison population engaged in vocational training and 43% participated in education.
- Mixed: Women who offend. While the number of female committals for fines default has decreased, there has been an increase in the daily female population with women’s prisons consistently overcrowded in 2018. Necessary actions identified in published strategies have not been fully implemented. However, IPS/Probation Joint Strategic Plan 2018–20 commits to the development of further gender specific alternatives to imprisonment, which is positive.
- Mixed: Inspections and monitoring. Appointment of new Inspector of Prisons is positive but no inspection reports have been published in 2018. Legislation to ratify OPCAT promised by end 2018 but no draft legislation published.
- Progress: Inter-agency coordination. The establishment of the Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland and the publication of their first report in 2018 is a positive cross-departmental initiative.
Ms Malone continued: “With Ireland’s two women’s prisons being the most overcrowded in the State, we are particularly concerned about the increasing number of women being detained. We are also concerned about staffing issues in general, which have resulted in the closure of schools and workshops, impacting on the daily regimes of prisoners; and about the number of people with severe mental health illnesses presenting in our prison system. These issues must be tackled through provision of community-based alternatives to prison for women; through reducing the capacity of each prison in line with available staffing levels; and through ring-fencing a sufficient number of spaces for prisoners in the new national forensic mental health facility in Portrane.”
“Findings today show there is still a long way to go in achieving our ambition for Ireland to lead as a model of international best practice. It is important to stress that this report is about more than a focus on any individual organisation, it’s about how we, collectively, make decisions about effective policies that ensure prisoners are treated in a humane and decent way. Good policies and outcomes require a partnership approach, and positive change cannot be sustained without the engagement of all stakeholders, including our judiciary, legislators, probation service and various State bodies.”
She added: “This time next year, we would like to be able to report that the commitment to open a step-down facility for female prisoners by the end of 2018 was met; that psychiatric services are available in Limerick, Cork and Castlerea prisons; that school and workshop closures are no longer a feature of the prison system; and that that legislation to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture was enacted. This would represent true progress and is achievable by October 2019.
“We have worked closely with the Irish Prison Service and many other organisations over the past 12 months, and look forward to continuing to work constructively with all stakeholders on the implementation of the short-term actions laid out in the PIPS report. It is our joint efforts that will create a more humane, just and equal penal system, and one that helps build a safer society for everyone.”
Contact: Sebastian Enke, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-3239496
Note to Editors
- Executive Director of IPRT, Deirdre Malone, is available for interview on request.
- The PIPS report is available for download at: iprt.ie/files/PIPS2018.pdf
About the IPRT
Established in 1994, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for rights in the penal system and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy. Its vision is one of respect for rights in the penal system, with prison as a last resort. IPRT is committed to respecting the rights of everyone in the penal system and to reducing imprisonment. It is working towards progressive reform of the penal system based on evidence-led policies and on a commitment to combating social injustice.
IPRT publishes a wide range of policy positions and research documents; it campaigns vigorously across a wide range of penal policy issues; and has established itself as the leading independent voice in public debate on the Irish penal system.