Group says cell sharing in Irish prisons puts inmates lives at risk

Michelle Hennessy
Group says cell sharing in Irish prisons puts inmates lives at risk

A human rights group has criticised the Irish Prison Service today, as it launched a new joint strategy with the probation service.

The strategy covers the two years 2015 to 2016 and aims to help the prison and probation services work together.

Today the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice said “several crucial objectives” in the last action plan still have not been met, including measures to address overcrowding and those to protect prisoners from violence.

Cell sharing

The Jesuit Centre also raised the issue of cell sharing, citing Gary Douche’s death in 2006. The 21-year-old was kicked and strangled to death by fellow inmate Stephen Egan in a cell. An investigation into Douche’s death found it was avoidable and there were problems with how Egan was handled, despite his being recorded as a “potentially violent prisoner”.

“The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has previously argued that this needs to include a formal cell sharing risk assessment which has not been completed. Currently 46 per cent of the prison population share a cell,” commented Coin Carroll, Advocacy Officer.

It is also unfortunate that the new prison in Cork will further institutionalise cell-sharing as a feature of prison accommodation, a practice that was first formalised 30 years ago and at variance of international best practice – a particularly retrograde step.

Overcrowding

The total committal rate to prison has increased but the daily average number of prisoners in custody has continued to fall. The report said bed capacities of nine prisons have now been alighted with the recommended figures, including Mountjoy, Portlaoise, Cloverhill and Wheatfield.

However, others like Cork and Limerick are not included and the group said today that “chronic overcrowding persists in a number of prisons”.

Though a number of the actions included in the last action plan were achieved, like the development of new strategies for women and for violent offenders, several are cited as ‘ongoing’ in the annual report.

Today the prison service said the rise in numbers of people in custody is linked to people refusing to pay court ordered fines. The cost of keeping an inmate in a prison has also risen by more than €3,000.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said she was committed to eliminating, in so far as possible, the option of imprisonment as a sanction for non-payment of fines.

A new fines system will be operational from October this year to address this.

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