Prison reports highlight overcrowding, violence and drugs issues

Serious overcrowding, violence and cuts in resources have impacted on inmates in the prison system, according to the Visiting Committee.

Reports on eight prisons highlight many examples of good or improving practice in some of the toughest jails, but also persistent or growing problems, often involving drugs and violence.

Some of the most serious issues were reported in the Dochas women’s prison and in St Patrick’s Institution.

Chronic overcrowding in Dochas resulted in women sleeping in recreation rooms, as well as alarm over drug use. The committee also said: “It is unacceptable some women are not released when they should be due to homelessness.”

The St Patrick’s report outlined the destruction of the library by inmates in a riot there last March, although the facility no longer detains children as it has done in previous years. The committee said much of the violence in the jail was sparked by previous history between inmates. St Patrick’s still detains 17-year-old remand cases.

In its report, the committee for Cork Prison said approximately 80% of those entering the jail are “semi-literate” and 60% of inmates are there “because they are unwilling or unable to pay fines”.

Overcrowding there has fallen, but the high turnover of inmates had affected education programmes. It also said full body searches were needed “to establish whether contraband is being smuggled into the prison”. Until the new prison is built, inmates continue to stay in “Dickensian conditions”.

Overcrowding was also an issue in Cloverhill, with the committee reporting inmates are sleeping three or four people per cell and in some cases sleep on floors. The committee said it was disappointed that “the passive drug detection dog continues to be only used on Sundays for family visits”.

In contrast, the Arbour Hill report said its food was of such a high standard that the prison will supply food to the Courts of Criminal Justice.

Responding, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said work was continuing on transforming St Patrick’s, and that concerns raised in relation to elderly prisoners in Arbour Hill Prison would also be addressed, as would overcrowding, drugs and staff shortage issues.

“The Prison Service is looking at innovative ways to reduce numbers in prisons in a planned, structured way and that is in the best interests of the prisoners concerned and also the community.”

Hard times

Arbour Hill The visiting committee praised “the fact that Arbour Hill’s food is of such a high standard” that it will start to supply food to the Courts of Criminal Justice in 2014.

* Cloverhill The prison population topped 400 here at times last year, with overcrowding “an ongoing issue”.

* Cork The level of overcrowding at the prison fell last year but the committee said the high turnover of prisoners had negatively affected its education programme.

* Dochas centre Serious overcrowding here. On one occasion five women were accommodated in a windowless recreation room.

* Portlaoise Prison The committee was generally positive about developments here, praising a new block which has in-cell sanitation and that offers a range of workshops and education facilities.

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