One in 12 women in laundries came from justice system
Some 8.1 per cent of the women and girls who entered the Magdalene laundries were referred there from the criminal justice system, the interdepartmental committee has found.
Criminal justice referrals included women on remand or on probation, deferred sentences, early or temporary release and referrals after prison.
In his introduction to the committee’s report, Senator Martin McAleese says some women were sent “on foot of criminal convictions ranging from vagrancy and larceny to manslaughter and murder”.
While most referrals had a legislative basis, some much less common informal referrals did not, the report said. These included suspension of sentence on condition of laundry residence.
Evidence of ad-hoc referrals by gardaí, due to temporary homelessness or to provide overnight juvenile accommodation, was found by the committee. The report pointed to a lack of options to deal with female offenders.
An absence of young offenders’ accommodation, limited prison space for women and a policy of preferring alternatives to prison for women, were linked to these practices, the report said.
Women and girls referred to laundries by criminal justice officials would have been told the reason for and duration of their stay, unlike those referred from non-State agencies and industrial schools.
The committee found there was a “legal basis” for the placement of girls on probation in laundries, the most common entry being through the criminal justice system. Women on a probation order could be sent for periods from three months up to three years and were liable to arrest if they ran away.
Probation officers from the period told the committee that in cases of girls considered “unemployable” the probation officer would ask if she was prepared to go to a convent for training and she would give her consent.
The committee found evidence of follow-up visits by probation officers and said few women remained after a probation order expired.
Some referrals by gardaí to laundries were on a “more ad-hoc or informal basis” at short notice. Such cases included women who were temporarily homeless or a juvenile girl needing overnight accommodation.
The girls were described by gardaí as “deserted, stranded, or vagrant” and as staying for a very short period pending return to parents or guardians.
A contemporary Garda report has indicated there was “no standard practice” for gardaí to provide “social interventions in the manner that we are accustomed to today”.
When women were returned to laundries or arrested after running away, it was because they were breaking a legal order. Such orders included probation orders, a court order for their detention or residency, or when girls were still under industrial school licence.