Hundreds forced to sleep on prison floors each month

Legal system ‘cannot keep incarcerating people when there are no places’ – Clare Daly

Conditions in some of the State’s jails being are being condemned as a breach of basic human rights. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Conditions in some of the State’s jails being are being condemned as a breach of basic human rights. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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Hundreds of men and women are being forced to sleep on prison floors every month in Ireland with the “entirely unacceptable” conditions in some of the State’s jails being condemned as a breach of basic human rights.

New figures show the issue is more widespread than previously thought and extends beyond Dublin’s Cloverhill to prisons in Limerick, the Midlands, Castlerea and Cork.

Monthly totals for Limerick provided by the Irish Prison Service show 168 women sleeping on mattresses on the floor during May, an average of five every night.The accommodation shortage is even more chronic for men at the jail, with monthly totals showing 404 on cell floors during July, or 13 every night.

There were 674 inmates – or 22 every night – without a bed during July at the Midlands Prison, a medium security facility for adult male offenders in Portlaoise, up from 286 the previous month.

The increase coincided with a sharp fall in the numbers sleeping on the floors in Cloverhill from 326 in June to 22 in July.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan previously said there were no prisoners sleeping on the floors at Cloverhill during July, and reported significantly lower numbers for the previous months. Those figures were inaccurate because of a “methodological error” which was “very much regretted”, he has since said.

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly, who obtained the figures through the Department of Justice, said the numbers were “intriguing” and “appalling”.

“The drop in the Cloverhill figures since we started asking about inmates sleeping on floors seems astounding,” she said.

“Did they move them all to the Midlands where the numbers on the floor skyrocketed? It doesn’t make sense when you compare the figures with the capacity figures, along with the fact that we are having to drag the figures out of them.

“We cannot keep incarcerating people when there are no places.”

Inmates on floors

The monthly total of inmates on floors in Castlerea Prison in July was 115 (an average of four a night) while in Cork it was 119 (also four a night).

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, which monitors human rights abuses in prisons, said the scale of the problem is “entirely unacceptable, and in clear contravention of basic human rights norms, including the European Prison Rules”.

“It should not be happening in 21st century Ireland,” she said.

Ms Malone said overcrowding decreases the chance of meaningful rehabilitation, increases tensions and makes prisons less safe for prisoners and staff.

“The prison service cannot meet its duty of care to prisoners in overcrowded conditions,” she added.

There has been a steady increase in the prisoner population this year, including inmates on remand and high numbers serving short sentences, who the trust believe in many cases could be handed community service instead.

Mr Flanagan said prisons “must accept all prisoners committed by the courts and do not have the option of refusing to take prisoners into custody”.

“While increases in prisoner population numbers result in challenges within certain committal prisons, the prison service takes all possible steps to alleviate the situation through a combination of inter-prison transfers and other contingency measures,” he said.

‘Additional pressure’

Mr Flanagan said renovations at some prisons, including Cloverhill, Wheatfield, Midlands and Castlerea, had put “additional pressure on prison capacity” during the summer months.

But Ms Malone said this was no excuse for allowing conditions that infringe on human rights.

“The European Court of Human Rights has held that it is incumbent on States to organise their penal systems in a way that ensures respect for the dignity of prisoners, regardless of financial or logistical difficulties,” she said.

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