- Capacity to provide space for prison population falls far short as general population expands
- “Prisons are becoming overcrowded resulting in instances of two prisoners occupying one cell, with one lying on the floor on a thin mattress, as I witnessed myself …two prisoners in one cell in effect represents a regression, a step backwards in the care of prisoners”
- “Concern that appointment of 50 new circuit court judges will result in more committals to prisons”
- “The prison system is unable to rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them for re-entry to the world”
- “Drugs are sought as a way of coping with prison life and, of course, hinder rehabilitation efforts”
Following a recent visit to support the prison chaplaincy team in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, Bishop Martin Hayes has released the following statement:
“I would like to sincerely thank the prison chaplains, management, staff, and prisoners for their welcome to Mountjoy Prison. I was able to move throughout the facility and observe conditions are they exist. The main purpose of my visit was to offer support to the prison chaplaincy team in their pastoral outreach to prisoners and staff. During my visit I gained an appreciation of the work of the chaplains and their rapport with prisoners. It is readily apparent that the chaplains’ role is valued by both management and staff.
“At all times I am conscious of the victims of crime and, in particular, of those people bereaved by the loss of family or friends due to the actions of convicted criminals.”
Bishop Hayes continued, “people are sent to prison in the hope that they will mend their ways; that they will be rehabilitated. However, our prison system, despite the best of intentions, is struggling to achieve rehabilitation for those in custody. It is in this context that we cannot forget about those who are sent to prison, the men and women who are serving time for crimes that they committed.
“It is clear to me that the prison system in Mountjoy Prison is under huge pressure to cope with the demands placed upon it. The key message for me was that, while the population of our country has increased, the capacity of our Irish Prison Service – in terms of the total number of available cells – has not. It means that our prisons are becoming overcrowded resulting in instances of two prisoners occupying one cell, with one prisoner lying on the floor on a thin mattress, as I witnessed myself in Mountjoy.
“Lack of capacity is a priority issue for the management of our prisons which, in turn, is concerned that the appointment of fifty new circuit court judges will result in more committals to prisons. While facilities for prisoners have been improved, the specific issue of concern for Mountjoy is the limitation on improvement arising from the design of the Victorian premises itself.
“In speaking to one of the long-term prisoners, I was told that prison conditions have improved greatly with the installation of hand basins and televisions. However, the concern shared by chaplains, and Irish Prison Service management, is that further progress is being hampered by overcrowding – two prisoners in one cell in effect represents a regression, a step backwards in the care of prisoners.
“The prison system is under real pressure to provide rehabilitation. My conversations revealed that, despite the best efforts of management and education personnel involved, the prison system is unable to rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them for re-entry to the world. Prisoners spoke to me of finding it hard putting in time as they cannot avail of education classes. In speaking with an ‘enhanced’ prisoner – who has been afforded more work duties for good behaviour – he stated that the chaotic nature of prison life does not enable rehabilitation or promote a respect for the law, in preparation for life outside prison.”
Bishop Hayes concluded, “Another challenge is the ease with which drugs can be delivered into the prison. As Mountjoy is a prison in a city, drugs can literally be catapulted into the grounds thus increasing their ‘market’ value. Drugs are sought to cope with prison life and, of course, they hinder rehabilitation efforts.
“While the role of prison is to punish those who commit crime, I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to uphold the human dignity of those held in our prisons. It is absolutely in the interest of the common good that we do what we can for prisoners so as to help them return to society as a neighbour who, thereby, can make a positive contribution to our communities. If a person sent to prison feels forgotten and abandoned by society, the likelihood is that she or he will return to society angry and liable to return to a life of crime.”
- Bishop Martin Hayes is Bishop of Kilmore and liaison bishop with prison chaplains. Bishop Hayes visited Mountjoy Prison on 4 April 2023.