Irish Penal Reform Trust

Annual report on prisons shows some positives, but robust oversight is lacking – IPRT

30th July 2021

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is calling for the Minister for Justice to publish all completed COVID-19 Thematic Prison Inspection reports and for the Irish Prison Service to publish prison census data. These calls come in response to today’s (30.07.2021) publication of the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2020 by the Minister of State for Civil and Criminal Justice, Hildegarde Naughton TD, which shows that worrying trends in prisons, including an overreliance on remand, persisted during 2020.

IPRT welcomes that the Minister of State met with prisoners and staff in Castlerea Prison for the launch of the report, as well as her specific acknowledgement of the sacrifices made by prisoners’ families due to restrictions on contact.

Responding to the publication of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) Annual Report 2020, IPRT Legal and Public Affairs Manager, Molly Joyce, said:

“This report gives a clear insight into the hard work by the IPS to keep people in prison safe from COVID-19 infection. It is imperative that the innovative measures detailed in the report, including video calls and in-cell teleservice, continue past the current crisis, alongside the resumption of in-person family visits and services. Robust action must also now be taken to mitigate against the negative effects of long-term restrictions in prisons.

“Mental health was one of the most pressing issues in Irish prisons before the pandemic, and the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated this need. The ratio of psychologists to prisoners in 2020 (1:220) remained far off the recommended target of 1:150, despite the additional need brought about by the pandemic. We welcome the continued focus of the IPS on improving this ratio, but progress has been too slow.”

While the Annual Report published today gives an overview of the operation of prisons during the pandemic, the lack of published prison inspection or monitoring reports during the pandemic has been a major gap in accountability. Several COVID-19 Thematic Inspection reports have been submitted to the Minister for Justice by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons. These reports should be published by the Minister without delay.

Annual reports published by Prison Chaplains and the Office of the Inspector of Prisons have suggested that certain prisoners have been held in conditions akin to solitary confinement as a response to COVID-19. However, the public has had no oversight of the number of people being held on restricted regimes (19+ hours in a cell per day) to date this year. Quarterly Prison Population Census Reports for January 2021, April 2021 and July 2021, have not been published by the IPS. An absence of reporting on this vulnerable group is concerning at any time, but this data gap during a pandemic is particularly alarming. Ms. Joyce continued:

“The timely and accurate publication of data is essential for the effective monitoring of conditions in the Irish prison system. The opportunity to address and respond to any issues arising from the data is undermined when it is not published promptly. Published data on the number of people being held on restricted regimes is crucial to support transparency on the use and proportionality of both non-pandemic and pandemic restrictions."

The pandemic offered an opportunity to reduce Ireland’s overreliance on custodial remand, however, the Annual Report published today shows a 4.4% increase in the average number of people being held on remand. In December 2020, 11.5% of all remand prisoners had been on remand a year or more, compared with 6% in December 2019. Pre-trial detention should be used as an exceptional measure but it appears that it risks becoming a default response. During the pandemic, those on remand were the most likely to have experienced harsher conditions within Irish prisons.

The proportion of people committed to prison on short sentences has also increased once again. In 2020, 78% of all sentenced committals were for 12 months or less. Effectively, four out of every five people sentenced to Irish prisons in 2020 were sentenced to less than 12 months, with a third of this group sentenced to less than 3 months.

 

For all media enquiries, contact Pamela: +353 (0) 86 043 3060 or communications@iprt.ie

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NOTES TO EDITORS

  • IPRT was responding to the launch of the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2020, available on the Department of Justice website here.
  • Other data: People who declared they had no fixed abode accounted for 7.1% (375) of all committals to prison in 2020; of the 287 releases on Community Return in 2020, there was a compliance rate of 89%; the daily average number of female offenders in custody decreased by 12.9% (-22) on the 2019 average, with a 3.3% (-125) decrease in the daily average number of male offenders in custody.
  • Earlier this year, IPRT published Irish Prisons and COVID-19: One Year On and made a host of recommendations on actions to be taken to protect the health and wellbeing of people in prison. https://www.iprt.ie/site/assets/files/6901/covid-19_in_prisons_one_year_on.pdf
  • 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, with prison as a last resort. See www.iprt.ie

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