29 November 2010
Prison Chaplains attack inhumane conditions behind prison walls
The report says “conditions in many of our prisons are an insult to the decency of any human being and an affront to the basic tenets of decency,” and they say a culture of conformity exists within the system which resists any criticism or challenge.
There are 27 prison chaplains, priests, religious and lay people, working in 14 prisons in Ireland. They work every day with men and women who are imprisoned, and their families.
Fr Ciarán Enright of the chaplaincy team in Arbour Hill Prison said, “It is frustrating and depressing to have to come out with similar reports year after year, with little or no sign of any positive action being taken by those in charge.” He said chaplains blame a politicisation of the criminal justice system, which is failing to address the real issue of crime and prevention.
Overcrowding got so bad this year that on one night during the summer 129 prisoners in Mountjoy had no beds to sleep in – and some did not even have a mattress to sleep on. In Wheatfield a 75 year old male prisoner was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Up to four men can be placed in a cell with no toilet facilities – other than a chamber pot – the same space they have to live and sleep in.
The chaplains also highlight how leaks to the media concerning prisoners are destructive of their attempts to manage their sentences and to resettle in the community. They single out the management and leaks around the release of Larry Murphy as resulting in a “media circus” which fuelled fear and anxiety in society. The endangerment of a person’s life and the creation of unnecessary panic among the public is of concern to them. In another incident this year, some media were waiting outside a hospital when a prisoner was escorted to an outpatient appointment.
On violence they state prisoners are under threat from inside and outside prison walls and “the most common form of attack is to use a blade to slash a prisoner’s face, leaving a long and permanent scar, often from ear to mouth.”
St Patrick’s Institution for young people and children (16 to 21) is highlighted as a cause of serious concern. Chaplains say:
- St Patrick’s is in direct contravention of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which prohibits the imprisonment of children (under 18s) with adults. Protections, regulation and guidelines relating to children in institutional care do not apply in St Patrick’s.
- The Ombudsman for Children is explicitly prohibited from investigating complaints or allegation by young people in St Patrick’s
- One in four of the young prisoners are ‘on protection’ – locked up for 23 hours a day with nothing to do.
- The prison workshops for young people are described as “a waste of money providing no useful training”.
The report recommends the pressing need to explore non-custodial options for prisoners who have committed less serious offences. It concludes “Current prison policy is a disaster for both prisons and society. Making our prisons safer and drug free is in everyone’s interest. The only obstacle is political will.”
Fr Ciarán Enright, Chaplaincy Team, Arbour Hill Prison (01) 459 3354, 00353 (0) 87 799 7297
Martin Long, Director of Communications 00353 (0) 86 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 00353 (0) 87 310 4444