European watchdog slams 'warden violence'

Europe’s human rights watchdog today urged the Irish authorities to crack down on ill-treatment in prisons and impose “severe sanctions” on prison staff using unnecessary violence to deal with inmates.

Europe’s human rights watchdog today urged the Irish authorities to crack down on ill-treatment in prisons and impose “severe sanctions” on prison staff using unnecessary violence to deal with inmates.

A 63-page report on Irish prison visits carried out a year ago by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) expressed concern about increasing levels of prisoner violence fuelled by the widespread availability of illegal drugs and the existence of a gang culture.

But in all the prisons visited – Cloverhill, Limerick, Mountjoy, St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders, Castlerea, Cork and Wheatfield – the Committee said it received “a number of allegations of verbal abuse and of physical ill-treatment of inmates by certain members of the prison staff”.

The alleged ill-treatment consisted “mostly of punches and kicks to the body” said the report, published today.

It went on: “In its (previous) reports to the Irish authorities, the CPT has consistently highlighted the importance of the Ministry of Justice, Prison Service and prison governors delivering the clear message that ill-treatment of inmates is not acceptable and will be dealt with severely.

“In the light of the information gathered during the 2006 visit, the CPT reiterates its recommendation that the Irish authorities continue to deliver at regular intervals the message that all forms of ill-treatment, including verbal abuse, are not acceptable and will be the subject of severe sanctions.

“More specifically, prison officers must be made fully aware that the force used to control violent and/or recalcitrant prisoners should be no more than is strictly necessary and that once a prisoner has been brought under controls there can be no justification for additional use of force.”

The report said the Committee was “dismayed” to find there had been no progress in updating Irish legislation governing the operation of the prison system. Current rules for the government of prisons date back to 1947, with new draft rules produced in 1994 but not yet put into effect, despite repeated assurances that they would be.

The CPT had raised the issue with Justice Minister Michael McDowell, the report said, and had been assured a Prisons Bill would be introduced by the end of 2006.

“The CPT recalls that the continued delay in the adoption of new prison rules deprives governors of a modern framework for managing prisons and prevents the application of clearly defined safeguards for prisoners. The CPT calls upon the Irish authorities to ensure that new prison rules are adopted as a matter of priority.”

The report also urged the Irish authorities to abolish the practice of “slopping out” in prisons.

“Until such time as this is achieved” it adds, “concerted action should be taken to minimise its degrading effects.”

The Committee inspected detention arrangement at police stations in Dublin, Sligo, Limerick, and Galway and reported that a majority of those interviewed about their time in police custody had no complaints.

“However, as had been the case during previous visits, a considerable number of persons did allege verbal and/or physical ill-treatment by gardaí” said the report.

“In the light of the information at its disposal, the CPT recommends that senior police officers remind their subordinates that the ill-treatment of detained persons is not acceptable and will be the subject of severe sanctions.”

A Government response to the CPT findings insisted that prison staff are made fully aware that no form of ill-treatment of prisoners is tolerated: “The Irish Prison Service will continue, as recommended, to deliver this message. All allegations of ill-treatment are thoroughly investigated and if warranted, disciplinary measures against staff would follow.”

It said the Government was also “not in any way complacent” about reports of till-treatment of people detained in police custody, and joined the Committee in condemning them:

“The Government wishes to reiterate its absolute commitment to preventing and, where they occur, detecting any abuses of the rights of persons in Garda custody.”

The Government response also pointed out that new prison rules came into effect on October 1 2007, and that the Irish Prison Service was “well advanced” in its plans to eliminate the practice of “slopping out”.

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