Prison service urged to reduce use of restrictive lock-up regimes

Over 200 prisoners spend 22 hours or more a day in their cells

Irish Penal Reform Trust said holding a prisoner in isolation should be used only “as a measure of last resort”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Irish Penal Reform Trust said holding a prisoner in isolation should be used only “as a measure of last resort”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

DAN GRIFFIN


A prisoners rights’ group has called on the Irish Prison Service (IPS) to reduce the use of solitary confinement and prolonged lock-up in prisons.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said holding a prisoner in isolation for more than 22 hours a day should be used only “as a measure of last resort in very exceptional cases, and for as short a time as possible”.

The IPS yesterday disclosed that 211 prisoners currently spend 22 hours a day or more locked up, some in solitary confinement and others in shared cells.


For protection
A spokesman for the prison service said 114 prisoners are locked up for 23 hours a day for protection; 32 for disciplinary reasons; and four for medical reasons.

Meanwhile, 57 prisoners are locked up for 22 hours a day for protection, one for disciplinary and three for medical reasons.

The prison service pointed out that a large number of prisoners feel at risk because of reasons such as gang affiliation and co-operation with gardaí, and request to be put in protection on committal.

IPS director general Michael Donnellan said the situation needed to be alleviated.

“It is not acceptable to have 114 people locked up for 23 hours a day,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “That is a number that hopefully over the next 12 months can reduce.”


Overusing solitary
Dr Sharon Shalev, research fellow at the Centre for Criminology at Oxford University, said Ireland appeared to rely too heavily on solitary confinement.

“It certainly seems as if Ireland is overusing solitary confinement as a form of protection,” she said.

The IPRT said 23-hour lock-ups “cannot be a solution in itself to prisoner safety concerns” and that “robust safeguards must be in place in relation to the use of such regimes”.