Increasing strain on prisons, report finds

OVERCROWDING and the housing of inmates for the non-payment of fines are putting increasing strain on some of Ireland’s main prisons.

According to Prison Visiting Committee annual reports for 2008, the jailing of foreign nationals for deportation and the scourge of drugs in jails is also adding to the prison system’s problems.

In Mountjoy, there was the “degrading spectacle” of seeing as many as 10 or 11 prisoners in one holding cell. There were a lack of phones on landings and a delay in repairing workshops after inmate disturbances in 2008.

Repairs and upgrading of toilet areas were needed.

“Missing tiles harbour bacteria, dampness, and cockroaches,” it was noted.

Sluice rooms were filthy and genuine hygiene was not up to scratch. The committee maintained that the prison was not fit to hold inmates.

Overcrowding was still a major problem and with the delay in the development of Thornton Hall, there was a need for more classes and workshops as well as the option of handing to prisoners community type orders instead of jailing them.

“We would urge the minister or his officials to discuss this with judges, particularly those at district court level,” the committee stated.

Overcrowding at Cloverhill Prison in Dublin last year reached a record high.

In October of 2008, there were 494 prisoners detained at the prison, up 28 from the previous high in 2007.

The committee highlighted complaints from prisoners who were put in cells at night on a mattress causing tensions and disruptions between prisoners.

Deportations continue to be housed overnight at the prison.

The committee expressed its concern that these prisoners should be going to a secure centre and not Cloverhill Prison.

“The prison should not have to deal with what are specifically immigration problems. The question has been raised before if prison is the appropriate place for detention,” the committee said.

The average number of foreign nationals on remand or sentenced at the prison on a daily basis stands at 25% of the prison population.

The committee highlighted communication problems due to language barriers.

At Limerick Prison, a visiting committee said the committal of persons to the prison as a result of fines or debts is putting a huge strain on resources and called for the use of alternative measures to deal with the issue.

Concern was expressed at the number of offenders sent to prison who had psychiatric problems.

The inmates needed care at a central mental unit, it said.

A visiting committee found Arbour Hill was well run and kept spotless. But the committee said there was a need to look at forms of “containment” for sex offenders who could not be released into the general community when they left jail.

The old Dublin jail was not “a cold or frightening place” but rather a “warm and caring facility”, it said.

Meanwhile, overcrowding was an issue at Castlerea Prison. At one stage 262 inmates were staying in the 214-man facility and inmates were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor.

The introduction of halfway houses in jail catchment areas could help prisoners facing release, it was added.

In Portlaoise Prison, a small number of complaints were made regarding jail transfers and temporary release.

A review of St Patrick’s Institution, which houses young offenders, found no overcrowding but a need for more teachers. The introduction of CCTV facilities had also not stopped the throwing of drugs over the jail wall.

There was one death in the year. The committee noted: “There were numerous attempted suicides and also a number of incidents of climbing onto the net which covers the yard. It was only due to the vigilance of staff that these situations did not end up in more deaths.”

Prisoners had fallen from significant heights, it added.

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