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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Panel probes complaints over Mountjoy Prison

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

AN oireachtas committee is to investigate claims of overcrowding, degrading and inhumane conditions at Mountjoy jail.

The Oireachtas Committee on Justice is to hear from Paul Mackay, a former member of the Mountjoy visiting committee and outspoken critic of the service this week following stinging criticisms of the prison service.

The two outgoing governors of Mountjoy Jail and the adjacent women's prison Dochas have criticised the prison service for chronic overcrowding and lack of autonomy to make decisions.

Mr Mackay, a founder of the Progressive Democrats, joined the fray last week by circulating a dossier of his correspondence with the Irish Prison Service and the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, to TDs and senators.

In a letter last November he complained that prisoners were sleeping in shower units and on floors infested with cockroaches and "assorted vermin". He accused the Prison Service of wasting time and effort on processing and examining prisoners jailed for non-payment of fines, even though most were released within hours.

In a follow-up letter in December, he complained that 95 prisoners in the jail were "under protection".

A month later, he wrote of a "dangerous disturbance" in the prison, when one group of prisoners planned to "get at" others in the same wing. "The intent was to kill and those who got in the way, both other prisoners and prison officers, received the full force of their vengeance." He accused the director general, Brian Purcell, of being in "total denial as to the problems affecting the custodial regime as operated at Mountjoy".

The Irish Prison Service confirmed last week that Irish jails were overcrowded but has acknowledged that the problem won't be resolved until the new Thornton Hall prison is finished in 2015.

In response to Mr Mackay's criticisms, a spokesman said projects were under way to create 500 extra prison spaces.

Mr Mackay, whose term of office has now ended, is due to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on Thursday after writing to Brendan Kenneally, its chairman, seeking an inquiry.

Dochas governor Kathleen McMahon claimed the Prison Service was undermining her views on prisoners' rights, such as temporary release of low-risk inmates.

Her criticisms were echoed by John Lonergan, Mountjoy's outspoken governor, who last week announced he was to retire next month.

Sunday Independent

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