'Making Progress?' Report on Irish Prison Service's Strategic Plan

Prison reform Strategic Plan has produced innovative and positive developments, but serious problems continue in the Irish prison system, says Jesuit Centre

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11:30 a.m.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

In a new report the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice says that the first year of implementation of the Irish Prison Service’s “Three Year Strategic Plan 2012–2015” has shown imaginative and innovative developments in prison policy, but has also been marked by some worrying deficiencies and delays in the implementation process.

The report was prepared by the Centre with the aim of analysing progress in implementing the specific commitments made in the “One Year Implementation Plan”, published by the Irish Prison Service in mid-2012, shortly after the publication of the overall Three Year Strategic Plan.

The Jesuit Centre’s report, entitled “Making Progress? Examining the first year of the Irish Prison Service’s Three Year Strategic Plan 2012–2013”, was launched today, Wednesday, 9 October 2013, by former Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Pauline McCabe.

 

Overall Picture

Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer in the Jesuit Centre, said, “The Centre’s report reveals a good record of achievement in a number of key areas – a reduction in overall prison numbers, a reduction in overcrowding, significant improvements in conditions in parts of Mountjoy Prison, the national roll-out of the Community Return Programme, which enables the earlier release of some prisoners under supervision, and progress in Integrated Sentence Management. Such developments have significant positive effects for people in prison, for prison staff and for society as a whole”.

Carroll said, however, that despite the positive developments over the past year there were many concerns regarding progress in relation to commitments in the Implementation Plan. He noted: “Promised strategies in relation to the detention of women and young people in prison have not yet been developed. There has been a failure to produce a standardised risk assessment tool for cell sharing despite the known risks and that 56 per cent of people in prison share a cell. We still do not know whether or not healthcare provision in prison meets societal standards.”

Carroll added, “It is a matter of concern that new conditions attached to engaging in rehabilitative services such as education and training are in danger of recasting such services as ‘privileges’ rather than an integral part of the prison regime. Furthermore, in an attempt to incentive prison engagement, family visits are now being used as a privilege.”

Comments of former Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

In launching the review, Pauline McCabe, the former Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, paid tribute to the Government, and specifically the Minister for Justice, for making significant public commitments to reform the prison system in Ireland and she commended the Irish Prison Service for developing its Strategic Plan and the One Year Implementation Plan. However, she said, “ It is of course the case that strategies, and even implementation plans, do not necessarily lead to the required change on the ground, which is why oversight and independent assessment is so very important.”

Ms McCabe stressed the importance of the commitment in the Implementation Plan to develop a strategy for young people in prison – a commitment which the Jesuit Centre’s Report shows has not yet been fulfilled. She said: “The moral, social and financial imperative for young people in the criminal justice system to be given every possible help to get their lives back on track cannot be overstated.”

Ms McCabe also commented on the importance of developing a standardised cell share risk assessment tool – again a commitment of the Implementation Plan not yet implemented. Ms McCabe said: “I have seen the best and the worst of outcomes from cell sharing … the need for adequate risk assessment procedures, if they are not yet fully developed, would seem to be paramount – given the current high and planned levels of cell sharing in Ireland.”

A long way to go; progress limited by resource constraints

Speaking at the event, Fr Peter McVerry SJ, who works with the Centre, said, “A very welcome start has been made to address the pressing problem of overcrowding. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve the desired target of having one prisoner per cell.”  

Fr McVerry went on to say, “Inadequate resources mean that, in some cases, the benefit of new creative policies, such as Integrated Sentence Management, the Incentivised Regimes and the Community Return Programme, is limited and may even exist more on paper than in reality. An effective Integrated Sentence Management policy, for example, would ensure that prisoners are released in a planned way. However, too many prisoners are still released at short notice, with no accommodation arranged, no money, no medical card and no supports.”

Fr McVerry also said that despite a promise in the One Year Implementation Plan there had been a failure to develop specific plans for prisoners ‘on protection’ – that is, prisoners isolated from others for their own protection and frequently locked up for extended periods. Fr McVerry said, “The situation of protection prisoners on 23-hour lock up, some of whom may spend years in such isolation, which can only be psychologically and emotionally damaging, has not been adequately addressed.”

Some negative overall trends

Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer in the Jesuit Centre, said “that the positive developments under the implementation plan need to be viewed in the context of some ongoing worrying trends in policy and practice in the Irish prison system. The Reduction in prison numbers over the past year is occurring in the context of a policy of expanding the number of prison places. For example, building plans for the new Cork Prison and the wings of Limerick Prison to be refurbished envisage that the capacities at these two prisons will increase.”

Mr Carroll also said: “A particularly retrograde step is the proposal that that ‘double occupancy’ will be the norm in the new Cork Prison and in the refurbished wings of Limerick Prison. This further represents a step towards institutionalising cell-sharing as a feature of prison accommodation, a practice that was first formalised 30 years ago and at variance of international best practice.”

[End]

For Further information and interviews, please contact:

Eoin Carroll, 087 2250 793

[Notes]

Pauline McCabe was Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland from September 2008 to May 2013; prior to this role she had her own business consultancy company. Ms McCabe has returned to public and private sector consultancy which has included advising and supporting public officials in Uzbekistan and Bahrain in the establishment of Ombudsman offices. Ms McCabe also served seven years on the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
 
Fr Peter McVerry SJ is a member of the JCFJ team and a Director of the Peter McVerry Trust, which provides accommodation and care for young people who are homeless.
 
Eoin Carroll is Social Policy and Communications Co-ordinator in the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice works to promote social justice by fostering an understanding of public issues through social analysis, theological reflection and advocacy. The Centre is an agency of the Irish Jesuit Province and is a registered charity: CHY 6965.
 
The social justice issues of concern to the Centre include penal policy, housing and homelessness, health care, and the need for a more just and sustainable model of economic development.
 
The Centre conducts independent analysis with the aim of influencing changes in policy and practice, as well as raising public awareness of social problems.

 

 

 

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