Irish Penal Reform Trust

ACTION ON TREATMENT OF MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS ONE OF THE “MOST PRESSING ISSUES WITHIN IRISH PRISONS” – IPRT

24th November 2020

The seventh report on Ireland from the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT), published today (Tuesday, 24th November 2020), paints a troubling picture of conditions in Irish prisons. Human rights issues identified in the report include overcrowding, inconsistent recording of violent incidents and out-of-cell time, incidents of excessive use of force and verbal abuse of prisoners, a failing complaints system, and the troubling treatment of prisoners with severe and enduring mental health issues – described by the CPT as one of “the most pressing issues within Irish prisons”. In response, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is calling on Government to act on the recommendations of the CPT in full.

IPRT further calls on the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Health to work together to progress the cross-departmental taskforce on mental health, addictions and imprisonment with urgency. This should include “urgent steps” to ensure that mentally ill homeless people, who the courts are willing to bail, can be transferred to a psychiatric facility in the community to receive appropriate care. This is a more appropriate response to the needs of these men and women, and it would also reduce the numbers held on remand and ease overcrowding.

Speaking on the publication of the report, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:

“The European Committee identified a number of improvements in the prison system since its last visit in 2015, particularly in relation to prison healthcare, positive staff prisoner relationships, and ending the imprisonment of children. However, too many serious issues remain, including a complaints system that is not fit for purpose, inadequate record keeping on solitary confinement, excessive use of force and verbal abuse by a small number of officers, and failures in the care of prisoners in High Support and Vulnerable Care Units.

“The conditions experienced by prisoners who are unwell and in psychiatric distress are upsetting, disturbing, and in some cases dehumanising. Government must act now on its commitments and progress the cross-departmental task force on mental health, addictions and imprisonment. This task force must be action driven and prioritise diversion away from the criminal justice system.

“This is the first published inspection report of a closed prison in Ireland since the CPT’s previous report in 2015. We should not have to rely on international visitors to find out what is happening in our prisons. The Inspector of Prisons has been poorly resourced in recent years, and the increase in budget allocation in 2021 is promising. However, the Inspectorate will only be truly effective when its powers are strengthened in law, and publish inspection reports directly.

“The Irish Prison Service committed to introducing a new complaints system this month, with the Ombudsman due to take on a role in prisoner complaints within 12 months. This will be five years after the recommendation that prisoners can access the Ombudsman was first accepted by the Minister for Justice in 2016, and must not be further delayed.”

The visit by the expert torture Committee in late 2019 preceded the imposition of COVID-19-related restrictions in Irish prisons. During this time, there have been no further published inspection reports on conditions in Irish prisons.
 

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with Fíona Ní Chinnéide, contact:

Pamela on 086 043 3060 or communications@iprt.ie
 

Notes for Editors

1. Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT)

The CPT’s most recent visit to Ireland took place from 23 September to 4 October 2019, during which the Committee examined detention in prisons, Garda stations, psychiatric institutions, and social care facilities. The CPT reports on visits to Ireland along with the Government’s response are published here.

2. Prison Figures:

  • The CPT report on their September/October visit notes that “on any given night many prisoners (up to 40 during the first five months of 2019) have to sleep on mattresses on the floor of cells”. This worrying trend disimproved after the CPT’s visit. The State response reports that on 11th March 2020 there were 4,235 prisoners in custody, with 71 prisoners sleeping on mattresses on floors.
  • In July 2020 – during the COVID-19 pandemic – 1,707 prisoners (45%) were required to use the toilet in the presence of another prisoner.
    Despite a strong recommendation from the expert Committee tasked with reporting on detention facilities across Europe on ensuring “all multiple occupancy cells are equipped with fully partitioned toilet facilities” (para 65), the State response indicates “There are no current plans to provide fully partitioned screens in cells.” (page 25)
  • Before the pandemic-related restrictions (January 2020), there were 75 prisoners on 22/23-hour lock-up with 589 prisoners in total subject to some form of restricted regime. This amounts to almost 15% of the entire prison population.

3. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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