Monday 18 February 2019

Irish prisoners not as engaged in education and voting while assaults on prison officers increase - report

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

Irish prisons have regressed according to an annual report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

The report 'Progress in the Penal System' is an annual evaluation of Irish prisons on a wide range of topics.

Of the 32 sections assessed, only three were deemed to have progressed while a regression was seen in four. There was either no change or mixed results in the remainder of the sections.

The areas that have seen progressions are prisoners’ life skills, staff training and inter-agency coordination. The most impactful of these, prisoners’ life skills, benefited from the establishment of a third Independent Living Skills Unit in Mountjoy.

While data from this week’s presidential election is not yet available, a fall back has been recorded in prisoner’s political and civic participation. Only 58 prisoners (two of whom were women) voted in May’s referendum on the 8th Amendment.

According to the report “the majority of prisons have seen a decrease in education participation rates over the first half of 2018.”

The report also outlines how prisoners who are yet to be sentenced are not being adequately separated from those with sentences. From July 2017 until a year after, the number of remand prisoners sharing cells with sentenced prisoners rose from 92 to 222.

The standards of the penal system outline imprisonment as the last resort but this too has suffered regression as according to the report, “there has been a net increase in the rate of imprisonment from 79 per 100,000 in May 2017 to 83 per 100,000 in July 2018.”

Areas that have seen no change include drug and alcohol treatment where the Medical Unit can facilitate up to 18 individuals, despite 44 prisoners being on the waiting list for the programme.

The report does however detail how prisoner assaults on other prisoners have continued on a steady downward curve since 2012. Findings from 2017 report 417 assaults compared to 572 and 287 in 2016 and 2015 respectively. In 2012, the number was 715.

Assaults by prisoners on prison officers have risen for the third consecutive year with 104 incidents compared to 98 and 91 from the previous two years respectively.

The decrease overall in violence is mirrored in the solitary confinement data where 35 prisoners were being held in July 2018 compared to 44 April 2017. This had reduced to 12 in April 2018 but increased again before the report was compiled.                                 

One of the biggest problems facing Irish prisons in overpopulation. This problem has remained this year, especially in female prisons where capacity is currently at around 117pc.

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