Conditions in Irish prisons have deteriorated, report warns

Many aspects of prison life, including overcrowding, mental health and time spent in cells, have worsened in recent years, exacerbated by the courts’ failure to use prison only as a “last resort”, according to a hard-hitting report released on Monday. warns.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) says solitary confinement and 23-hour confinement are increasingly used, the vulnerabilities of female prisoners are ‘ignored’ and many prisoners wait too long to be transferred to the Central Psychiatric Hospital (CMH).

A “major concern” is the lack of reliable data on what happens in prisons. This “failure of the state to provide consistent, robust, and public data” makes it “extremely difficult…to understand the extent to which the rights and well-being of some of the most marginalized people in our society are protected.”

The trust’s fifth annual report in a series, Progress in the Penal System (PIPS), focuses on 13 areas in need of urgent reform and paints a “quite disheartening picture”.

On December 10, 2021, there were 3,779 people in Irish prisons. “It hasn’t changed much” since December 2020, when there were 3,762. The majority of incarcerations (78%) in 2020 were for sentences of less than 12 months. It is “likely” that many of them could have received non-custodial sanctions, such as community service orders.

“Prison is detrimental to the individual as well as to their family and to the wider community… It is also clear that overcrowding is a risk if the courts continue to incarcerate men and women in detention at short term…[which] jeopardizes the ability of the Irish Prison Service to meet basic standards.

The report finds “little change or regression with the worsening of many aspects of prison life such as time spent outside the cell and reliance on solitary confinement, family contacts, education and life”.

Women in prison are “a risk group that differs significantly from men,” the report says. Their needs within the criminal justice system tend to be “unrecognized and ignored” and “women’s prisons have been the most overcrowded in the field for many years”.

The IPRT “calls on all relevant ministries and agencies to commit to improving the transparency of criminal justice and the penal system.”

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