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No real reduction in chronic prison overcrowding

By editor - 19 May, 2015

“It is unfortunate that the new prison in Cork will institutionalise cell-sharing as a feature of prison accommodation" as it is at variance with international best practice.

Eoin Carroll and Fr John Guiney of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice.

Eoin Carroll and Fr John Guiney of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice.

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has criticised the failure of the Irish Prison Services to meet several critical objectives contained in IPS’s Three Year Strategic Plan 2012–2015.

In a statement issued on Monday, Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer in the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice highlighted that there had been no meaningful reduction of chronic overcrowding in Mountjoy, Cork and Limerick prisons.

Other objectives set out for year one of the Irish Prison Service 2012–2015 Strategy which were not met include the lack of cell share risk assessment, which the Jesuit Centre said may have prevented the death of 21 year old Gary Douche in 2006.

Furthermore, there was no specific strategies for older prisoners and prisoners on protection and no ‘Dignity at Work Charter’.

Speaking about the unmet commitments as the Irish Prison Services and Irish Probation Service launched their Annual Reports for 2014 and a Joint Strategy 2015–2017, Eoin Carroll warned that “while the level of overcrowding has reduced across the prison estate, chronic overcrowding persists in a number of prisons”.

The IPS three-year plan committed to reducing chronic overcrowding in year one of the strategy in Mountjoy, Cork, Limerick male and female and the Dochas Centre.

However, according to Eoin Carroll, Cork and Limerick remain “chronically overcrowded”, while numbers in Mountjoy “see-saw above and below maximum capacity and it is only in the last few months that the Dochas Centre have seen the number reach or fall below maximum capacity”.

Referring to the case of Gary Douche and the lack of a cell share risk assessment, the Jesuit Centre said had this been in place “it is likely that he would not have been killed”.

The IPS three year plan 2012–2015 committed in year one to introduce appropriate assessment procedures on committal.

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has previously argued that this needs to include a formal cell sharing risk assessment which has not been completed. Currently 46% of the prison population share a cell.

“It is also unfortunate that the new prison in Cork will further institutionalise cell-sharing as a feature of prison accommodation, a practice that was first formalised 30 years ago and at variance of international best practice – a particularly retrograde step.”

The IPS three year plan also committed in year one to have developed specific strategies for young prisoners, women in prison, older prisoners, those convicted of a sex offence and prisoners requiring protection.

While a well-developed strategy has been developed for women, no other plan has been produced.

These groups have been identified as requiring special attention and action is urgently needed Eoin Carroll highlighted.

The Jesuit Centre is in the process of developing a policy paper on the needs of young adults in prison which it hopes will inform policy in this area.

According to Eoin Carroll, people who work in prison have a very difficult job balancing the desire to create an environment that respects the dignity of prisoners and that promotes rehabilitation with safety a paramount concern.

He highlighted that the IPS three year plan committed in year one to produce a ‘Dignity at Work Charter’ which still has not been published.

“The Irish Prison Service’s Three Year Strategic Plan 2012–2015 has shown imaginative and innovative developments in prison policy,” he commented.

He said there has been a good record of achievement in a number of key areas with significant improvements in conditions in parts of Mountjoy Prison, the national roll-out of the Community Return Programme, which enables the earlier release of some prisoners under supervision, and progress in Integrated Sentence Management.

“Such developments have significant positive effects for people in prison, for prison staff and for society as a whole,” Eoin Carroll emphasised.

“However, critical strategy objectives outlined above have not been met and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice are concerned that these will not be fulfilled,” he said.

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