Monday 19 August 2019

Overcrowded prisons: 'Inmates sleeping on mattresses on floors'

Risk of return to 'pack 'em, stack 'em and rack 'em' culture

Midlands Prison
Midlands Prison
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Rising prisoner numbers is leading to inmates sleeping on mattresses on floors again and a risk of a return to the ‘pack ‘em, stack ‘em and rack’em’ culture that belongs to the past, the Prison Officers Association Conference has heard.

The issue of overcrowding in prisons is again back on the agenda with numbers rising from 3745 in April 2017 to 3890 in April 2018, and up again to 4049 in April 2019, President of the POA Tony Power said.

“Prisoners’ sleeping on mattresses on floors is becoming an all too common sight again but yet our Open Centers remain below capacity,” he told delegates in Sligo.

“Taking one landing at the Midlands, initially designed to hold 38 prisoners, it regularly has prisoner numbers in excess of 65 and this is mirrored in many of the prisons,” he said.

“Overcrowding provides the perfect atmosphere for the bully to thrive and exert huge pressure on vulnerable prisoners, in particular to trafficking contraband, including weapons and illegal drugs,” he added.

“Serious violence is often part of the scenario here and we prison officers pay the inevitable price. Overcrowding puts both prisoners and prison officers at unnecessary risk – and this is totally unacceptable,” he added.

Mr Power said the Irish Prison Service strategy statement makes reference to the reopening of the Training Unit in Mountjoy.

“But not one red cent has been spent on it since the decision was taken to close it in 2016. So we need clarity on this issue as a matter of urgency,” he explained.

“All of us believed this was a historic issue.  None of us want a return to the ‘Pack em, Stack em and Rack em days’ of the past, where both prisoners and prison officers pay a heavy price,” he said, calling on Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan “not to allow this to happen on your watch”.

In February it was revealed that there had been more than 3,400 cases in the previous three months where prisoners had to sleep on the floor in Irish prisons.

The situation is worst in Limerick Prison, with over 1,500 cases between November and January.

The statistics were revealed by Minister Flanagan in response to a parliamentary question from Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly in the Dáil.

There were six prisons in Ireland where they wasn’t enough beds for prisoners in the period November last year to January this year.

These were Cloverhill Remand Prison and Wheatfield Prison in Dublin, the Midlands Prison, Castlerea Prison, Cork Prison, and Limerick Prison.

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