Thursday 27 October 2016

Watch: 'Prison should be about opportunity not punishment' - Dóchas governor defends institution against 'soft' allegations

Cathal McMahon

Published 20/04/2016 | 14:49

Mary O'Connor. Picture: Jason Kennedy
Mary O'Connor. Picture: Jason Kennedy

The governor of Ireland’s largest female prison has claimed jail should be about ‘opportunity not punishment’.

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Dóchas Centre governor Mary O’Connor says that a loss of freedom is enough punishment for inmates like Black Widow Catherine Nevin and the notorious 'Scissor Sisters' Charlotte and Linda Mulhall.

Speaking to Ms O’Connor said they strive to make conditions better behind bars for some inmates than it is on the outside.

“If you or I ended up in prison this would be really, really tough for us. It doesn’t matter what the  surroundings are like, this would still be really tough for people.

“If their lives outside are so bad that this is better than they have outside then I think we should try and do that,” she said.

The Dóchas centre on Dublin’s North Circular Road is regularly criticised for being too soft on inmates.

Prisoners are given greater freedoms than many of their male counterparts with many having access to single cells and their own keys.

Ms O’Connor rejects the notion that criminals should be punished beyond losing their freedom: “Prison should be an opportunity for change. Unless we provide a safe environment where people can look at what they need to change their lives we are failing society.

“Society needs us to give people an opportunity to stop and think how they can avoid coming back here. In many cases it is drug related and so many women here are going to treatment, various residential treatment centres that they are now not committing crimes.

“It’s a safe environment where they have a chance to think and look at how they are living their lives up to now. How they can change the way they look at life and move on from there and live as a valued member of society.”

Earlier this week was given a rare look inside the walls of the Dóchas. There are currently 111 women locked up in the prison.

Ms O'Connor explained that everyone gets up at 8am, they have breakfast before school starts at 9.30am.

“School is academic, plus less academic. This is so people who have had a bad experience of education are not afraid to come and participate.

“They can do jewelery making, computers, Open University basic literacy and numeracy. There is a vast array of subjects they can do and be involved in.”

Prisoners have lunch at 12.30, dinner at 4.30 and are back in their rooms by 7.30pm at night.

“Our society says that loss of freedom is punishment. Once you have gone into prison you are serving your punishment. If we inflict more punishment on people then you are not conforming to what is expected in this western society."

She added: "So many women who come into prison don’t feel like they belong in society. If we reinforce that then they won’t gain by being in prison at all."

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