Government praised for reducing ‘slopping out’ in prisons

UN torture committee remains concerned about prison overcrowding and violence

The highest number of assaults was in Mountjoy, which also had the highest rate of self-harm incidents, approximately 20. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The highest number of assaults was in Mountjoy, which also had the highest rate of self-harm incidents, approximately 20. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Ireland has been praised by the United Nations Committee Against Torture for its efforts to eliminate the process of “slopping out” in prisons and for improvements in the State’s prison infrastructure.

The Geneva-based committee said the Government had made strong progress to end the process where prisoners are required to manually remove human waste and “should be commended on this achievement”.

It noted that as of this year just 56 prisoners were required to slop out from a prison population of more than 3,000.

Committee rapporteur Ana Racu said, however, that at the same time 1,539 prisoners across the State were required to use toilet facilities in the presence of another prisoner, and this could be considered “inhumane and degrading treatment”.

Ireland is attending its first public review by the committee of its human rights records since 2011.

At the three-hour hearing Ms Racu expressed concern about overcrowding and that a number of prisons were operating above capacity.

“One of our main concerns is that there is an over-reliance on prison as punishment, which leads to continued overcrowding,” she said.

Violent incidents

The rapporteur also noted that 85 per cent of more than 2,000 violent incidents in prisons were between prisoners, and attributed the issue to the presence of gangs, the use of drugs and poor provision of activities for inmates.

The highest number of assaults was in Mountjoy, which also had the highest rate of self-harm incidents, approximately 20.

Ms Racu said it was “very controversial” that the State’s only high-security prison, Portlaoise, had a high number of “control and restraint” incidents even though it had the lowest number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults of any jail.

The UN also criticised the poor reporting of four recent deaths in custody – two self-inflicted and two as a result of assault – with only minimum information given, and “incomplete, inaccurate and at times misleading” reporting of what happened.

The rapporteur also criticised the increased use of solitary confinement and said official statistics did not show how long individuals spent in solitary or how often they returned to such confinement.

Ms Racu commended the closure of St Patrick’s institution for juveniles but said the incidents at Oberstown including the fire in August last year “shows the management is not in control”.

Women in prison

The UN committee expressed disappointment in the increased numbers of women in prison and persistent overcrowding.

It was also concerned at how the State identifies and deals with victims of trafficking. Ms Racu noted 95 suspected victims of trafficking in 2016, compared to 78 in 2015 and 46 in 2014. “This raises concerns about the Government’s ability to identify human trafficking victims,” because “only non-European nationals are recognised as suspected human trafficking victims”.

Earlier the committee raised concerns about the State’s lack of comprehensive data on domestic violence and poor prosecution record of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The offence of domestic abuse “is not rare but prosecution is extremely rare”.

Rapporteur Felice Gaer said there were 10,000 domestic violence orders issued in 2009 and 2010 but only 25 people were convicted and there had only been four convictions for marital rape since 2008.

She also expressed concern that six years after the last review “the legal situation has not changed on the ground” in relation to abortion.

Criminalisation of abortion

The committee highlighted legal cases in relation to fatal foetal abnormalities and found that the criminalisation of abortion even where a foetus was not viable caused intense suffering.

Ms Gaer also criticised the State’s requirement that women receiving compensation in cases of symphysiotomy had to sign indemnity clauses.

She welcomed the payment of awards from €50,000 to €150,000 to 578 women but said the requirements for women to indemnify “and hold harmless individuals and bodies responsible for harming them, are inconsistent with the human rights of accountability”.

The Government will give its formal response to the UN committee at a hearing on Friday afternoon.