Irish Penal Reform Trust

CPT Report 2020: Summary of Critical Issues

24th November 2020

The seventh report on places of detention in Ireland from the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT) was published todayA summary of critical issues detailed in the report is included below.
The report itself is available here. IPRT's statement in response to the report is available here.

The CPT delegation visited Arbour Hill Prison, Cloverhill Prison, Cork Prison, Midlands Prison and Mountjoy Prison (with the visit to Mountjoy including a targeted visit to the Challenging Behaviour Unit and High Support Unit and to persons on restricted regimes). The latter four prisons were subject to particular criticism (paragraph numbers are given in brackets).

  • Mountjoy Prison: In the Challenging Behaviour Unit, the prisoners were offered only one hour of outdoor exercise and 30 minutes to shower and clean their cell each day. The caged exercise yard for the unit was “small and dirty” and no activities were offered to the prisoners (paragraph 45). In the High Support Unit, there was a “complete lack of structured activities” for prisoners, nearly all of whom had long-term and severe mental health illness. No occupational therapy, individual or group psychotherapy or recreational therapy was available; only pharmacotherapy. The CPT recorded: “In sum, the prisoners wandered idly around the unit or the yard and watched television.” The CPT also met one prisoner in this unit who was “completely neglected” and living in a dirty and squalid cell (paragraph 80).
  • Cork Prison: The CPT recorded several incidents of concern arising from Cork Prison, including a complaint made by a prisoner in January 2018 that he had been punched in the face by a prison officer. Despite the complaint being upheld by an investigator, the Governor of the prison did not initiate any disciplinary proceedings against the officer concerned and instead asked his Chief Officer to re-investigate the case, (paragraph 34). There were also examples of a prisoner in the Challenging Behaviour Unit, who was subject to special conditions of detention due to his being a high security risk, being offered only half an hour of outdoor exercise on his own and being confined to his cell for the rest of the day (paragraph 45). On another occasion, a vulnerable foreign national prisoner who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease was forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor after returning to the prison from hospital (paragraph 66).
  • Cloverhill Prison: Cloverhill Prison has the largest unit holding mentally ill prisoners in the country and the unit has had to expand over the past 10 years as “more and more severely unwell persons have entered prison” (paragraph 81). The CPT observed during their visit that the unit was “overflowing with seven prisoners having to sleep on mattresses on the floor”; the duty doctor confirmed that this was a regular feature for the unit (paragraph 81). There were further concerns that the majority of cells in Cloverhill are designated as being triple occupancy, despite being only 11m² in size (including the semi-partitioned toilet). A number of cells were identified as being in a poor state and in need of refurbishment (paragraph 65).
  • Midlands Prison: The CPT identified particular problems with prisoners sleeping on mattresses in Midlands Prison, with the delegation meeting one person who had spent almost a month on a mattress on the floor (paragraph 66). A total of 16 prisoners were sleeping on mattresses at the time of the CPT’s visit (paragraph 28). On the issue of inter-prisoner violence, while recognising that the recording of such incidents was poor across the prison estate (with the exception of Cork Prison), the CPT particularly noted the low number of violent incidents recorded at Midlands Prison when compared against its size (paragraph 37). The CPT also outlined a number of concerns about operations in the National Violence Reduction Unit located in Midlands Prison (paragraphs 49-54).

Critical Issues

Among other issues, the Committee found:

  • Complaints: The current complaints system operating in Irish prison is not fit for purpose. The CPT particularly noted concerns about: the proper recording and investigation of complaints; the timeliness of responses to complaints; the feedback provided to prisoners about their complaints; and some reported instances of prisoners being bullied by officers after they made a complaint (paragraph 34). The CPT acknowledged that the IPS is in the process of drawing up a new prisoner complaints system, due for implementation towards the end of 2020, and recommends that the necessary resources are provided to ensure that this new system is fair, efficient and effective (paragraph 35).
  • Use of Observation Cells: There remains confusion on the part of prison staff about the use of special observation cells (which are used to prevent prisoners from causing imminent injury to themselves or others and where other less restrictive methods of control would be inadequate). Use of such cells was often not in compliance with the relevant Standard Operating Procedures introduced in April 2019. The CPT’s concerns were such that, at the end of their visit in 2019, they requested a wholesale review of the use of such observation cells (paragraphs 55, 60-61). The CPT further recorded concerns about: the routine removal of prisoner’s clothing when they are placed in an observation cell; prisoners’ lack of access to showers and outdoor exercise when placed in observation cells; and the recording of data on the use of such cells (paragraphs 56-59, 62).
  • Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners: The CPT described the treatment of mentally ill prisoners as one of the “most pressing issues within Irish prisons” (paragraph 63). The Committee cited two particularly shocking examples of the treatment of mentally ill prisoners in Cloverhill Prison. It noted that, despite both prisoners being very unwell, neither had an individual care and treatment plan nor were they able to engage with nursing staff due to officers’ unwillingness to unlock the cells (paragraphs 63-64). The Committee also raised significant concerns about the provision of psychiatric care in Irish prisons, particularly around the lack of meaningful engagement and structured activities for prisoners located in the Vulnerable Prisoner Unit at Cork Prison, the High Support Unit at Mountjoy Prison and Wing D2 at Cloverhill Prison (paragraphs 79-80, 82). The CPT also found that, on occasion, mentally ill prisoners detained in Cloverhill Prison were sleeping on mattresses (paragraph 81). The CPT reiterated the fundamental principle that mentally ill persons should not be held in prisons and should instead be transferred to an appropriate health care facility where they can receive treatment (paragraph 84).
  • Homeless People in Prison: A major concern for the CPT was the rising numbers of mentally ill homeless people ending up in prison. Many of these persons could be granted bail by the courts but, because of their homeless status, they are excluded from the HSE community mental health services and so instead are left to languish in prison (paragraph 83). The CPT recommends that “urgent steps” be taken by the Irish government to ensure that mentally ill homeless persons in prison, who the courts are willing to bail, are rapidly transferred to psychiatric facilities in the community to receive treatment.
  • Out-of-Cell Time and Solitary Confinement: While commending the IPS’s commitment to abolishing the use of solitary confinement, and recognising the genuine efforts being made to ensure all prisoners are offered at least two hours of out-of-cell time, the CPT noted that there are prisoners who remain de facto in a situation of solitary confinement (i.e. locked up for more than 22 hours in their cell) (paragraphs 38-39). The de facto solitary confinement of some protection prisoners remains a particular concern, as well as the meaningfulness of the out-of-cell time that such prisoners receive (paragraphs 40-42). The CPT also noted their concerns about the treatment of prisoners considered to pose a high security risk and segregated for that reason (paragraphs 44-46).
  • Ill-Treatment and Verbal Abuse: While the CPT concluded that the majority of prison officers behave in an appropriate and respectful way towards prisoners, they found examples of a small number of officers using excessive physical force and/or verbally abusing prisoners. Some of this verbal abuse included racial abuse, most notably directed towards members of the Traveller community and persons of African descent (paragraph 33).
  • Inter-Prisoner Violence: While recognising the progress that the IPS has made and sustained in reducing inter-prisoner violence and intimidation, the CPT noted their concerns about the poor and inconsistent recording of such violent incidents across the prison estate (with the exception of Cork Prison) (paragraphs 36-37). The CPT particularly noted their concerns about the “integrity of the data”, which in turns means that it is not possible to meaningfully analyse the extent of violence in Irish prisons or make comparisons between the different prison establishments (paragraph 37).
  • Use of Toilets: As of October 2019, 45% of the prison population in Ireland shared a cell and accordingly had to use the toilet in the presence of other prisoners. The CPT’s view is that all in-cell toilet facilities should be fully partitioned up to the ceiling, in order to provide privacy and dignity for prisoners sharing a cell (paragraph 30).
  • Overcrowding: The CPT was concerned about local overcrowding in Irish prisons and the fact that, on any given night, many prisoners have to sleep on mattresses on the floors of cells (paragraphs 28, 66). Governors of Cloverhill, Cork and Midlands Prisons confirmed that the use of mattresses was becoming the norm (paragraph 28). The CPT noted in this regard that the number of persons in pre-trial detention has increased by 30% since 2015 and the number of persons being given sentences of less than six months has increased by 30% since 2014 (paragraph 29). Recognising that research shows prison sentences of less than 12 months are less effective than community sentences, the CPT recommends that the Irish authorities (a) promote greater use of alternatives to imprisonment and remand detention, and (b) increase efforts to avoid the use of short sentences (paragraph 29).
  • Cell-sharing: The CPT noted their concerns about the way in which the capacity of prison establishments is calculated, noting that it was not convinced by the current policy of increasing capacity by placing a second bed in a single occupancy cell (paragraph 29).
  • Immigration Detention: A prison is by definition not a suitable place to detain someone who is neither suspected nor convicted of a criminal offence and the CPT noted their concern that prison establishments continue to be used to accommodate immigration detainees in certain circumstances (paragraphs 24-25). The CPT further described the particular problems faced by immigration detainees who are held in prison (paragraph 25) and recommends that the Irish authorities create a specifically designed centre for immigration detainees (paragraph 26).    
November 2020
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