A Dickensian jail of filth, psychological cruelty and abusive physical treatment

Some prisoners at St Patrick’s Institution were forcibly stripped, at times with the clothes cut off their backs

St Patrick’s Institution, North Circular Road, Dublin. Judge Michael Reilly has recommended the closure of the prison.

St Patrick’s Institution, North Circular Road, Dublin. Judge Michael Reilly has recommended the closure of the prison.


Last October when Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly published his seminal report on staff abuses at St Patrick’s Institution, he found child prisoners were being forcibly moved to isolation cells using head- and armlock control and restraint methods, with walking never permitted for any transfer.

Once at the cells, some were forcibly stripped, at times with the clothes cut off their backs by staff using knives and leaving injuries. This was “degrading and a form of punishment, intimidation and abuse”. Judge Reilly noted it involved some young inmates who had been sexually or physically abused as children.

He found there was “no proper management structure” in St Patrick’s, a facility in which the drug problem was worse than in any other prison and where gangs were rife.

He did not trust even basic record-keeping such as prisoner and teacher attendances in the prison school. He has decided to bring in his own education experts to test his belief that even the length of the school day is being significantly overestimated in official Irish Prison Service data.

It emerged the report had been presented to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter almost four months earlier. In the face of a massive media and political storm caused by the damning findings being made public, Mr Shatter put forward the thesis that much progress had been made since Judge Reilly made his visits.

Bullying and fear
Shatter said the culture of bullying and fear outlined in the report had been “brought to an end”. Speaking yesterday morning, Mr Shatter said “a substantial programme of reform” had been put in place and “the vast majority” had been implemented.

Judge Reilly’s latest findings in his annual report published yesterday reveal Dickensian conditions persist at the jail. It seems incredible such a regime would be allowed to exist in the direct aftermath of the previous abuses. Woefully inadequate – and in some cases punitive and cruel – staff practices were aired publicly and without watering down.

The Irish Prison Service under Michael Donnellan is without doubt in its most reforming and progressive phase, with Shatter also deserving credit for assisting Donnellan and his team in their efforts to transform the prison system. Much of this is documented in Reilly’s report.

It is clear a culture as resilient as it was rotten had taken hold in the facility after criminal neglect and serious mismanagement in the past decade and a half by the prison service and governments.

Based on what he found during surprise visits to the prison in recent month, it is clear Judge Reilly had little option but to close the jail. It would not survive if an avalanche of legal actions were taken by former prisoners claiming their human rights were breached in a process that would rival the army deafness scandal that cost the State over €300 million.

Stale food and broken toilet
During a visit after last year’s report, Judge Reilly found a prisoner in a “filthy” committal area cell with “a considerable quantity of stale food” on the floor. T he space also contained a broken toilet “filthy and full of old excrement”. In another case, a psychiatrically ill prisoner was found in a holding cell shaking with cold as the window was stuck open. He had not been given his medication and had not been allowed to phone his family.

“The prisoner presented as a vulnerable person, he was afraid and crying when I left,” Judge Reilly notes.

Another prisoner had been taken from his cell and strip-searched though no records had been created. In one cell Judge Reilly found two prisoners who were afraid to leave because one had been badly beaten and the other stabbed three times in the past.