Jail report urges design overhaul to limit violence
NEW jails must include special units to prevent gang violence behind bars.
The recommendation comes as a new report from the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, confirmed inter-prisoner violence in Mountjoy was endemic.
He admitted it was not possible at present to provide safe and secure custody for all inmates held there.
In the report, which covered a period from March 2009 to last month, the inspector also declared that overcrowding was a problem in all prisons.
He acknowledged gang culture in society, which was mirrored in the jails, imposed additional difficulties for those planning future prisons and he recommended that including a number of small units within the complex would allow the gangs to be segregated while at the same time provid- ing "out of cell" time as well as structured activities for the prisoners.
Judge Reilly accepted change could not occur overnight and suggested a two-pronged approach to overcrowding -- stabilising the prison population and a building and refurbishment programme to meet the Prison Service obligations.
He welcomed the new fines legislation -- the substituting of fines for prison sentences as punishment for minor offences -- and said it would reduce the prison population by about 32 inmates on any given day.
It would also significantly impact on costs associated with processing fine defaulters.
He pointed out that the decision not to jail people for civil debt, except in certain circumstances, would also lead to a decrease in the numbers behind bars.
Judge Reilly called on the authorities to consider setting up "problem solving" courts under the umbrella of the community court and said this concept had been operating successfully elsewhere including the United States, England and Australia.
He also backed the automatic suspension of all sentences carrying a specific number of months or less and said this existed in other countries and was currently being considered in England.
An examination of prisoner profiles for a random day showed 50 inmates imprisoned for three months, 124 prisoners for three to six months and 283 inmates for six to 12 months.
Calling on the authorities to draw up a priority list for prisons in need of measures to alleviate overcrowding, he suggested that the first five slots should be filled by Mountjoy male prison, Limerick female prison, Limerick male prison, Cork prison and the Dochas women's centre.
Lack of funding should not be taken as an excuse, he added, and appropriate money must be made available.
Judge Reilly also underlined the extent of the drugs problems in several jails.
A separate report from the Mountjoy visiting committee complained they had been given assurances that extra bed spaces being provided nationally would improve conditions at Mountjoy but that, blatantly, was not the case.
It said the prison system continued to accept prisoners from the courts, without question, into unsafe, unhygienic and overcrowded conditions and the committee said it could not accept that nobody could liaise with the judiciary on that issue.
It said a fifth of all prisoners in the basement were sleeping on the floors, accompanied by assorted vermin and cockroaches, and Mountjoy needed urgent attention until Thornton Hall was open.