By editor - 01 June, 2016
"Shocking to learn that people in prison spend so much time locked in their cell" - Joanne O’Riordan at the launch of 'Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults'.
Over a hundred young adults are up to 23 hours a day locked up in their cell according to the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice which has called on the Government to end ‘severe confinement’ for young adults in prison.
Speaking at the launch of the Jesuit Centre’s report, Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults, Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer said they were recommending that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, be assigned responsibility for 18–24 year olds in the criminal justice system.
They are also calling for the number of young adults in prison to be halved and that they be accommodated separately to older prisoners.
Joanne O’Riordan (@nolimbsnolimbs) launched the Jesuit Centre’s report, and said it was “shocking to learn that people in prison, my age, spend so much time locked in their cell. That the norm is around 17 hours locked up each day and that there are over 100 young adults locked up for longer, some for 23 hours.”
Fr Peter McVerry, who visits Mountjoy and Wheatfield prisons each week, also spoke at the launch and warned that “Far too many young people in prison spend almost all their time in prison locked up in their cells, out of fear for their own safety.”
He said the issue of safety, both for prisoners and staff, is a major concern.
“The conflicts and issues around drugs which exist within the community continue when a person is imprisoned. Promoting an environment where both prisoners and staff feel safe is not an easy task but involves promoting restorative practices and conflict resolution, involving young people in decision making and providing access to a wide range of educational and training services, including access to drug detoxification and treatment.”
Recalling her visit to Fort Mitchel Prison, Joanne O’Riordan said, “As a baby my parents brought me to Fort Michel Prison, since closed, on Spike Island in Cork. The prisoners there – mainly in their early 20s – decided to organise a fundraiser for my family.”
“When my parents heard, they wanted to personally thank them. I spent a day playing with them in the prison. Such a gesture, prisoners raising money for someone, really challenges our perception about people in prison as being just ‘bad’”.
On Tueday, Fr Peter McVerry described imprisonment as an inherently a negative experience.
“Learning from the decisions we make is a key dimension to a young person’s development. However, in prison all decisions are made for you by the prison authorities. If we are going to lock young people up, involving young people, as far as possible, in the decisions that affect their life in prison should be a priority.”
“Most young people in prison have left school early, have no qualifications or skills, often poor literacy skills, no history of employment. Indeed they have been failed by all the systems in society. It should be a priority to ensure that their time in prison is used constructively, by equipping them for life outside prison through educational and skills training.”
“Unfortunately, for many young people, they leave prison no more equipped for life than the day they entered prison.”
Outlining the findings and recommendations from the report, Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer in the Jesuit Centre said, “We need to reduce the number of young adults we send to prison.”
He noted that 18–24 year olds represent 12 percent of the adult population nationally, but make up 24 percent of all those sent to prison each year.
“Looking to Finland there is no reason why we cannot reduce by half the number of young adults in prison,” he suggested.
“What our report highlights as being particularly startling is the percentage of young adults on ‘extended lock up’ what we refer to as ‘severe confinement’. Thirty-one percent of adults on extended lock up times are aged 18–24.”
“The most recent figures we have showed that seventeen young adults were locked in their cell for 23 hours each and every day. This is hard to fathom, over the course of a week that is 161 hours out of 168 locked up.”
He said the evidence is there as to why young adults end up in prison.
“At a structural level: poverty, deprivation, social exclusion, an inadequate supply of housing and exclusion from school. We also know that young adults are risk takers, impulsive and do not fully understand the consequences of their action.”
“In fact, they are more similar to children then older adults. Logically then – as is the practice in many other countries – young adults in the criminal justice system should come under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone,” he indicated.
“Behaviourally, all young adults push boundaries and challenge authority; within the prison system this has resulted in a disproportionate number of 18–24 year olds being placed on the ‘basic’ accommodation level. What this means is that they have less access to family visits and telephone calls. 9 per cent of young adults in prison compared to 2.6 per cent of all adults are on ‘basic’ level meaning they have only one half hour visit per week. This is contrary to the necessity of keeping young adults in contact with family and community.”
Young adults are over-represented in prison
Representing 12 per cent of the adult population nationally, 18–24 year olds make up 24 per cent of all those sent to prison each year (most recent year available 2014).
Of the 3,755 in prison 767 were young adults (date: 30 November 2015)
20 percent of people serving a sentence on this date were young adults
26 percent of people on remand awaiting trial or sentence were young adults
Of those sentenced four out of ten young adults (18–24) are serving a sentence of two years or less, compared with two out of ten of adults 25+ (30 November 2015)
If Ireland followed the imprisonment rate of young adults in Finland we would have less than 350 in prison.
Young adults on restricted regime (extended lock-up times)
Referred to by the Jesuit Centre as ‘severe confinement’
Thirty-one percent of adults on extended lock up times are aged 18–24 (January 2016; Irish Prison Service (2016a)).
75 young adults were on 21hours lock-up
12 on 22 hours lock-up
17 on 23 hours lock-up
(January 2016; Irish Prison Service (2016a))
Young adults and accommodation standards
Accommodation within the Irish prison system differs from prison to prison and also within each prison. Within each prison operates three levels of accommodation, basic, standard and enhanced. A young adult enters prison at the ‘standard’ level, depending upon their behaviour they will move up or down a level or stay static.
Basic 9%; Standard 55%; Enhanced 36% (26 February 2015)
Versus the total adult population
Basic 2.6%; Standard 44.3%; Enhanced 53.1% (27 May 2013)
(Irish Prison Service (2016a); Dáil Debate, No. 205, p. 63, 30 May 2013, PQ 26331/13)
Basic: one half hour visit and three phone calls per week, daily gratuity of €0.95c
Standard: two half hour visits and seven phone calls per week, daily gratuity of €1.70
Enhanced: four half hour visits and fourteen phone calls per week, daily gratuity of €2.20
(Compiled from Irish Prison Service (2012c; 2016e) reports and information received)