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Ireland 'shamed' by prison report

A damning inspection of Irish prisons by Europe's anti-torture watchdog has exposed the country to international shame, campaigners have warned.

Leading human rights chiefs found appalling standards in crisis-hit jails from chronic overcrowding to drug abuse, inadequate mental health care, slopping out and daily violence.

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment also reported a number of alleged assaults on inmates by prison officers.

Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, called on all election candidates to commit to radical reform of the prison system.

"This report shows a litany of broken commitments and inaction in relation to chronic problems over the past two decades," he said.

"There has been a failure of leadership to address the problems within our prisons.

"The bottom line is that prisoners and the general public are left with a prison system that is unacceptable and which has exposed Ireland to international shame."

The European torture watchdog visited prisons, Garda stations and psychiatric units from January 25 to February 5 last year when the prison population was about 4,100 - the system capacity. There were 4,541 people in jail last month.

The report includes complaints from an inmate allegedly beaten by staff in Mountjoy, Travellers racially taunted and assaulted in Cork prison, and other prisoners attacked after refusing to be X-ray-searched or for defecating in a cell after being refused a toilet. Medical reports have been included in all cases.

Mark Kelly, Irish Council for Civil Liberties director, said the report makes clear that prisons remain inhumane and degrading.

"Fair trial safeguards have been weakened and people in psychiatric care are still being kept in insalubrious and unsafe conditions," Mr Kelly said.

The inspectors highlighted Cork, Mountjoy and the female prison in Limerick for major criticism.

In Cork, plastic bags were being used as toilets and there were unacceptable dirty segregation cells. Prisoners also reported having only one shower and change of underwear a week.

In Limerick's female prison, women were found sleeping two to a bed because of chronic overcrowding and also using blocked showers and flooded cells.

Mountjoy has persistent problems of overcrowding in chronic conditions, with inmates housed there simply because it has floor space, the report said. The jail was said to be in an overall poor state of repair.

St Patrick's Institution for young offenders left inmates spending long hours in cells and high numbers not engaged in any meaningful activity.

The report found inadequate psychiatric care across the system, particularly in Cork where there was poor record keeping, over-reliance on medication, and dirty observation cells.

The committee reported on one case in Wheatfield where a prisoner was held in a special observation cell for six weeks and worsened in condition during that time.

PA Media