Former Mountjoy governor calls for research into prison violence


THE FORMER governor of Mountjoy prison in Dublin has said he is surprised there have not been calls for an investigation into sexual and physical violence and bullying in prisons.

Speaking after a mental health conference in Portlaoise, John Lonergan said there was a lack of data on the extent of such violence in prisons because it was not in the interest of the establishment to quantify those problems.

Overcrowding was a scandal, “but the biggest scandal of all is that the public seems to be conditioned that it’s normal,” he said, pointing out that the British introduced single-cell occupancy to secure the safety of prisoners.

“Nowadays there is an assumption that if you put a young person into a cell with two or three others that he or she is safe. They’re not. They can be sexually abused, physically abused, bullied, harassed, terrified.

“You cannot guarantee the safety of the prisoner if you cannot give him a single cell,” he said, adding that political parties, prison visiting committees, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, should take a stronger view on single-cell occupancy, which was a fundamental human right.

“Common sense would tell you that if human beings are confined in small spaces it is inevitable you will have sexual abuse, physical abuse and bullying,” he said. The strong prison culture against “grassing” or making complaints made it difficult to gather accurate details.

He suggested an independent research committee should confidentially investigate the levels of violence in prisons.

“After all they [prisoners] are citizens. After all they’re us, they’re our people and they’re our responsibility,” he said.

Liam Herrick, executive director of the IPRT, said the body consistently raises violence as one of the most serious issues in Irish prisons. Sexual violence, which is an undocumented problem in prisons, is not helped by the absence of a proper complaints procedure for prisoners, he said.