Incontrovertible and devastating evidence of chronic conditions in the largest prison in the State has been released in the Report of an Inspection of Mountjoy Prison by the Inspector of Prisons, which had been published today. The report details the appalling treatment of prisoners in Mountjoy Prison. These are core human rights issues, and the State simply cannot continue to tolerate such extreme violation of human rights.
IPRT is seriously concerned about conditions as described in the report, which are unacceptable and in breach of international human rights standards:
- Accommodating 7 prisoners in a 4-bed cell with 3 buckets as sanitary facilities, beside which the men eat their meals;
- The practice of holding prisoners in areas which are not designed as accommodation areas, such as shower areas; vulnerable prisoners being accommodated where places are available around the prison rather than in a dedicated unit;
- The lack of laundry facilities; inadequate sanitary facilities; dirty toilets and landings; infestations of cockroach and mice;
- The lack of purposeful activity for almost half of prisoners at any given time;
Alarm bells in many of the cells not working, putting vulnerable prisoners at risk, including those who may be at risk of suicide;
- Appropriate risk assessment not always being done; risk not managed;
Inadequate system of dealing with prisoner complaints, including serious allegations against staff.
‘This report’, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of IPRT, said today:
“… forms an urgent call for political leadership. The Inspector has indicated that the Irish Prison Service is engaging with him constructively, and we believe that if there was strong political leadership, the Irish Prison System would be capable of addressing these issues.
“We cannot wait any longer for a prison that may or not be built. We need a clear statement from the Minister that he will commit to addressing the urgent issues identified in this report, and that he will give the support and leadership necessary to the Irish Prison Service in this regard.”
IPRT believes that this report must act as a watershed in the Irish penal system. In particular, IPRT agrees with the Inspector’s statement that the – now significantly delayed – plans for building a new prison facility to replace Mountjoy can no longer be used as an excuse for not providing safe custody to prisoners and afford them the protection required by international human rights standards.
Here are some important figures to remember in relation to the conditions in Mountjoy.
The design capacity of Mountjoy Prison is 489; the addition of extra bunks to cells brings the number to 573; however, numbers have been as high as 670 in July 2009.
The Inspector of Prisons has called for a cap of 540 on the numbers of prisoners; the Director General of the Irish Prison Service has indicated that with an additional 30 cells (56 spaces) in the refurbished separation unit, it is his intention, “in so far as is practicable”, to keep the prison population of Mountjoy under 600.
International Criticism from CPT and the UN HRC
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) following its visit to Ireland in 2006, highlighted
the high levels of inter-prisoner violence and, in its strongest statement yet regarding Irish prisons, it assessed Mountjoy Prison, Limerick Prison and St. Patrick’s Institution as “unsafe, both for prisoners and for prison staff”. It also recorded a number of instances of ill-treatment of prisoners by staff and lack of appropriate recording of medical examination following such incidents.
In 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee highlighted the persistence of poor conditions in Irish prisons, pointing in particular at overcrowding, lack of in-cell sanitation, non-segregation of remand prisoners, shortage of mental health services available, and the high level of inter-prisoner violence. The elimination of overcrowding and the practice of ‘slopping-out’ received particular attention. In the year following the inspection, the situation in Irish prisons has deteriorated, particularly in relation to overcrowding and inter-prisoner violence.
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