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Our prisons are unsafe and degrading, says EU report

IRISH prisons are branded "unsafe and degrading" in a damning report by Europe's anti-torture agency today.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) also found the Government is unable to contain drug use within prisons.

The committee said an independent complaints system is needed to protect prisoners and suspects from being abused by gardai and prison warders.

The committee also warned that the increased use of, and demand for, drugs is fuelling "a younger, more aggressive prison population who have little to do besides plotting how to get their next fix".

In a report following a visit last year to 15 detention facilities including garda stations, prisons and the Central Mental Hospital, the CPT has issued an unprecedented appeal to Irish judges and lawyers -- some of whom discourage their own clients from highlighting official abuse -- to intervene on behalf of mistreated prisoners.

The CPT, which publishes its report today with the consent of the Government, has uncovered a litany of abuses including:

l Vicious attacks, including verbal abuse and physical assaults on prisoners and suspects in police custody and prisons.

l At least three prisons "unsafe" for prisoners and staff because of gang-related violence.

l Reports of prison officers, under the influence of alcohol, fuelling deliberate rumours to incite violence among inmates.

l Degradation and humiliation faced by prisoners who have to watch each other defecate in their cells as other prisoners held in strip cells wearing only paper nappies.

During its visit, the CPT received "a considerable number" of complaints from prisoners of verbal and physical ill-treatment -- mostly kicks, punches and blows with batons -- when they were placed under arrest and in segregation.

"This CPT report is a salutary reminder that further action is needed to stamp out the problem of verbal and physical ill-treatment by members of An Garda Siochana," said Mark Kelly, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

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"The creation of new accountability mechanisms such as the Garda Ombudsman Commission is a step in the right direction. However, it is not a substitute for human rights proofing all existing Garda policies and practices, especially on sensitive issues such as the use of force".

The Council of Europe agency will reveal that some prison officers have "given up" on efforts to prevent drugs being passed over perimeter walls.

"It is imperative that concerted action is taken to stem the flow of drugs into prisons and to provide prisoners with purposeful activities."

The CPT, which has called for drug-free wings, psycho-social counselling and methadone programmes to be introduced in all Irish prisons, has warned of the rising numbers of prisoners with a substance abuse problem.

It says that drugs are a "significant element" in making a number of prisons unsafe for inmates and staff.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said that the report has found that Irish prisons operate outside international standards in many areas, with the result that the State is failing to protect prisoners from harm.

"It also makes it clear that the new prison building programme will not in itself address these problem," said Dr Ursula Kilkelly, chair of the IPRT.

The attacks were strenuously denied by the Irish Government in its detailed response, but the allegations were consistent with medical files and inspections by the CPT's medical doctors.

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