Irish Penal Reform Trust

Visiting Committee Annual Reports 2017

11th March 2019

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) notes the publication on 8th March 2019 by the Department of Justice and Equality of the 2017 annual reports from the visiting committees for each of Ireland’s prisons.

Echoing a statement made by IPRT following the publication of the Visiting Committee Annual Reports 2016 in early 2018, IPRT reiterates that the delay in publication of the Visiting Committee Annual Reports is not satisfactory in order to allow timely responses to the issues raised within. IPRT also remains concerned that there is no systematic approach to the production of the reports by each of the Visiting Committees.

Speaking following the publication of the Annual Reports 2017, Acting Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Fíona Ní Chinnéide, said:

“In order for the Prison Visiting Committee system to effectively contribute to a broader framework for inspections and monitoring in Irish prisons, the Department of Justice and Equality must take action to reform the current Prison Visiting Committee system. This should include the standardisation of reporting across prisons and the appointment of members with multi-disciplinary expertise, as recommended in IPRT’s ‘Progress in the Penal System’ report.”

Commenting on reported staffing shortages in many prisons, Ms Ní Chinnéide continued:

“Concerns about persistent staffing shortages and the knock-on effect this has had on prisoners’ access to education, training and necessary healthcare were raised by Visiting Committees reporting on prisons across the estate. In order to assess the impact of these staffing shortages on the current prison regime, an examination of staffing levels should be conducted.”

IPRT is particularly concerned about the situation in the Dóchas Centre, where it has been reported that “serious challenges” have arisen due to “over-stretched” resources. The Annual Report of the Visiting Committee for the Dóchas Centre expresses serious concern at the accommodation of mothers and babies on a general corridor of the prison.

In response to the Visiting Committee Annual Report 2017 for the Dóchas Centre, Ms Ní Chinnéide stated:

“The removal of mothers and babies from the mother and baby unit, reportedly for disciplinary reasons, is of serious concern to IPRT. In the small number of cases where a custodial sentence is the only appropriate response for a new or expectant mother, access to a Mother and Baby Unit should be available. It is unacceptable that mothers and babies are being held in a general corridor with ‘ten to fifteen other women’. This practice is contrary to Rule 36.3 of the European Prison Rules. All questions of prisoner discipline should be dealt with without impacting on the welfare of the babies, who should not be regarded as prisoners.”

Overcrowding is an issue highlighted across several of the Visiting Committee Annual Reports. It is reported that the rise of prisoner numbers has led to ‘doubling up’ in bunks, with some prisoners sleeping on floors.

Responding to the detailed impact of increasing prisoner numbers in several of the reports, Ms Ní Chinnéide concluded:

“IPRT restates that it is impossible to have any meaningful interventions or to tackle offending behaviour in an overcrowded prison environment. Given that the average number in custody when these reports were written in 2017 was 3,680, we have reason to believe that the issues related to overcrowding detailed in these reports have further deteriorated, with an average of 3,988 people in prison custody last week.”

NOTES:

1. IPRT – Progress in the Penal System (‘PIPS’)

The ‘PIPS’ report provides a comprehensive overview of human rights and best practice in Ireland’s penal system. IPRT has developed 35 standards against which the prevailing situation in Ireland’s penal system is tracked, monitored and assessed on an annual basis. 

Standard 24: Inspections and Monitoring https://pips.iprt.ie/progress-in-the-penal-system-pips/part-2-measuring-progress-against-the-standards/d-complaints-accountability-and-inspections-mechanisms/24-inspections-and-monitoring/

2. European Prison Rules

Rule 36.3 of the European Prison Rules states that special accommodation shall be set aside to protect the welfare of infants for whom it is in their best interests to remain in prison with a parent. https://rm.coe.int/european-prison-rules-978-92-871-5982-3/16806ab9ae

3. Daily Prison Population Numbers

https://www.irishprisons.ie/information-centre/statistics-information/2015-daily-prisoner-population/2019-prison-populations/

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

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