Conditions in prisons 'inhumane'
Violence and drug use are escalating in prisons with overcrowding adding to inhumane conditions, according to prison chaplains.
In their annual report, the chaplains say conditions in many Irish prisons are an insult to the decency of any human being and they criticise a culture of conformity within the system which resists any criticism or challenge.
According to the report, overcrowding got so bad this year that on one night during the summer, 129 prisoners in Mountjoy had no beds to sleep in and some did not have a mattress to lie on.
In Wheatfield prison, a 75-year-old male prisoner was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Up to four men can be placed in a cell with no toilet facilities - other than a chamber pot - the same space they have to live and sleep in.
The report also says leaks to the media concerning prisoners are “destructive of their attempts to manage their sentences and to resettle in the community."
It singles out the management and leaks around the release of rapist Larry Murphy in particular, saying it resulted in a "media circus" which fuelled fear and anxiety in society.
There are 27 prison chaplains - priests, religious and lay people - working in 14 prisons in Ireland.
Fr Ciarán Enright of the chaplaincy team in Arbour Hill Prison said it was frustrating and depressing to publish similar reports year after year with “little or no sign of any positive action being taken by those in charge."
St Patrick's Institution for offenders aged 16 to 21 is highlighted as a cause of serious concern.
Chaplains say the institution is in direct contravention of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which prohibits the imprisonment under 18s with adults. One in four of these young prisoners are 'on protection' - locked up for 23 hours a day with nothing to do.
Protections, regulation and guidelines relating to children in institutional care do not apply in St Patrick's and the Ombudsman for Children is prohibited from investigating complaints or allegation by young people in the institution.
The report recommends the need to explore non-custodial options for prisoners who have committed less serious offences. It concludes that current prison policy is a "disaster for both prisons and society."