Friday 18 April 2014

Jailing women for petty offences leading to overcrowding in Dochas Centre

JAILING women for petty offences often related to drug and alcohol addiction is contributing to an “unacceptable” overcrowding problem at the Dochas Centre women’s prison, according to the Inspector of Prisons.

In his most recent interim report published yesterday, Judge Michael Reilly said overcrowding is the “single greatest problem associated with the Centre”.

This is leading to prisoners constantly arguing with each other and “tension throughout the centre where the slightest thing can spark a major altercation.”

The centre was designed to accommodate 85 prisoners in single rooms when it opened as an adjunct to Mountjoy Prison in 1999.

An extension built in 2012 added capacity for another 20 prisoners, however women must share single rooms with some accommodated in recreation rooms with no privacy, he found during recent inspections.

Judge Reilly said the maximum number of prisoners should not exceed 105 but the centre “has consistently operated way in excess of its maximum capacity”.

He noted there were 150 prisoners on July 8, 2010 when its maximum should have been 85 and 141 prisoners on June 19, 2013 when the maximum should have been 105.

In the vast majority of cases, the prisoners are sentenced to less than three months for petty nuisance, theft, public order and driving offences, he said.

Noting that many of the women suffer from drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems and come from abusive, dysfunctional backgrounds with poor education and coping skills, the short sentences they receive precludes them from taking part in rehab programmes.

“The inevitable result will be that she goes back to the society that she has come from where drugs, alcohol and chaos in her life again becomes the order of the day,” he wrote.

“Petty crime feeds this chaos.The circle continues.”

ustice Minister Alan Shatter said he has met with Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Irish Prison Service (IPS), “who has assured me that the concerns raised by the inspector are being dealt with.”

He also stressed that he is committed to “pursuing alternatives to custody” for minor offences and has established a working group to examine such alternatives as well as rehabilitation and prevention programmes.

Irish Independent

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