4th January 2021
The Prison Chaplain Annual Reports for 2019 have been published by the Irish Prison Service. Most of these reports cover the 2019 calendar year, with some of the reports covering the period up to March 2020.
These reports are the first published Annual Reports of their kind since 2010. Before 2010, these reports were regularly published and played a vital role in highlighting key issues in prisons. Chaplains play an important role in the lives of people in prison and have historically offered balanced and fair critique of conditions in prisons.
These reports by Prison Chaplains are even more essential in the absence of published independent prison inspection reports, however, they should not be a replacement for regular reports published by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.
While some positive initiatives are also detailed in the reports, pressing challenges/concerns raised by the Chaplaincy in each individual prison are listed below.
Arbour Hill: One of the challenges raised by the Arbour Hill Chaplain is the difficulty in finding accommodation for men on release from Arbour Hill. The Chaplain notes how disheartening it is to see men released into hostel situations. The Chaplain also notes limited progression routes for life-sentenced prisoners coming to the end of their sentences as open prisons will not accept them. Given the impact of bereavement in Arbour Hill, the report recommends a bereavement policy be put in place.
Castlerea: The report notes a delay of at least two weeks for families to access a visit. The Chaplain also reports instances of prisoners waiting up to two weeks to access a call on committal.
Cloverhill: The continuous imprisonment of those who are mentally ill in Cloverhill is raised as a serious concern. Likewise, the report expresses concern around a lack of appropriate accommodation for individuals with complex needs.
Cork: The report for Cork Prison notes that the Chaplains are ‘deeply concerned’ at the long periods of time men are spending on the VPU landing.
Dóchas Centre: The report emphasises a 32% drop in out of cell time for the 6 standard houses, at 7 hours 35 mins. This coincided with what was deemed the worst ever period of overcrowding. The report recognises that women are being sent to prison in far higher numbers than ever before. The publication of this report by the Irish Prison Service follows several media reports about the issues raised in the report in advance of its publication.
Limerick: The report expresses serious concerns for the mental health and overall wellbeing of prisoners, highlighting a small number of prisoners who spent long periods of time isolated in their own cells. Concern is also expressed for young vulnerable women in overcrowded areas, particularly the female landings.
Loughan House: The report states that lack of a full-time Probation Officer on site during 2019 caused huge pressure on staff, prisoners and their families. However, a new Probation Officer has been appointed. In addition, the report notes that there is no full-time psychologist for the centre.
Midlands: The report expresses great concern for the availability of drugs on landings. It also identifies the imprisonment of those with serious mental health issues and the inadequacy of resources to deal with such issues.
Mountjoy: The report questions the use of close supervision cells with punitive intent. According to the report, people held on protection wings A and B can be locked up for up to 23 hours per day, which the Chaplaincy notes raises concerns for mental health, rehabilitation etc. In addition, the report notes an ongoing issue with letters and cards being sent out, in a timely manner, to family members and loved ones.
Portlaoise: The report identified the segregation of ‘A Block’ as inhibiting social interaction of any reasonable kind. Families find visiting arrangements stressful, with some older parents choosing to not come anymore and some families deciding to not bring children. Likewise, the report shows concern for visits being mainly screened visits.
Shelton Abbey: The report addresses the depletion of the Probation Service; with only 1 Probation Officer and no full-time psychologist.
Wheatfield: The report notes grave concern for the incidence of drug consumption and the suffering caused by short sentences, which ‘achieves nothing in terms of restitution or rehabilitation’. The report also raises concerns about the poverty of those held in prison, with the Chaplaincy stating it ‘cannot understand the sense of repeatedly detaining poor prisoners who cannot afford bail that costs less the weekly bill for their detention’. Coupled with this, the report notes that people continue to be released into homelessness.
As well as the issues unique to each prison listed above, common concerns raised in several of the reports include: the increased committal of women to prison across 2019; overcrowding and the associated impact on regimes; the ongoing imprisonment of people with serious mental health issues; staffing issues, either within the Chaplaincy, or the prison more widely; and the use of restricted regimes. It should be noted that gratitude for the support of Governors and other prison staff is also expressed across the various reports.
Prison Chaplain Annual Reports for 2019 can be read on the Irish Prison Service website here.