Prisoner Tom Humphries: a day in the life on Midlands Prison’s G wing

Former ‘Irish Times’ journalist put in cell near Graham Dwyer on G wing

The former Irish Times sportswriter Tom Humphries has spent his first full day in jail as a sentenced convict. He is prisoner 108586 and is sharing a cell at Midlands Prison with an extortionist. They are on a landing of G wing that houses between 16 and 20 other prisoners.

Many of the inmates at Ireland’s largest jail are sex offenders, like Humphries. Although he was not sentenced until Tuesday, when he received a 2½-year jail term, Humphries was taken into custody three weeks ago, at his request, after pleading guilty to grooming and sexually abusing a teenage girl. Since then Humphries has been getting used to the rhythm of life behind bars.

Midlands Prison, a modern, medium-security facility in Portlaoise, can hold 870 men. G wing is mostly for sex offenders, as is F wing. One of Humphries's highest-profile fellow prisoners is Graham Dwyer, who is serving life for the murder of Elaine O'Hara.

The sex offenders’ wings are generally free of prison gangs, with relatively little contraband, such as mobile phones and drugs. This generally creates a calmer, more ordered environment, where prison time is the easiest anywhere in the system apart from at open facilities. Each cell has a television, kettle, toilet and shower, and prisoners wear their own clothes.


Breakfast at 8.15am

The day starts at about 8.15am, when cells are unlocked to allow inmates to collect breakfast. They are locked back in until 9.15am, after which they attend workshops or classes, see visitors or exercise. Prisoners return at noon, for lunch, which they are locked into their cells to eat. At 2.15pm they are allowed out for more structured activities: school, workshops and visits. Tea is served at 4pm, when prisoners are locked into their cells until 5.20pm. They are let out for two hours of recreation before their cells are shut again at 7.30pm. In total they can spend eight hours a day out of their cells.

Inmates at Midlands Prison have access to health, chaplaincy and psychological services, and classes can be in English, maths, humanities, computing, material technology, home economics, physical education, foreign languages, horticulture and ceramics. Given his past as a journalist, Humphries could possibly help other prisoners with their literacy skills.

Trustee prisoners

Inmates such as Humphries – well-educated men whose crimes did not involve street crime or drug addiction – usually become trustee prisoners, the most reliable, predictable and least volatile of the jail population. This can help them to secure coveted kitchen jobs and be trusted with activities without close supervision.

Humphries is already regarded as a compliant prisoner who poses no security risk. This brings with it longer visits and telephone calls and increased daily payments for the tuck shop. He will probably also be put on the prison’s enhanced regime once he proves his stability and reliability.

His much-criticised 30-month jail term will in reality be shorter. Like all prisoners, Humphries will be entitled to 25 per cent remission, cutting the maximum time he will spend behind bars to 22½ months. This is sometimes referred to as time off for good behaviour, but remission is the right of all prisoners, and judges factor it into their sentences.

If Humphries agrees to join the Irish Prison Service’s sex-offender programme and becomes a model prisoner he could very likely secure enhanced remission. This would reduce his sentence by a third, making him due for release around the end of May 2019.

Sex-offender programme

The three-part programme, known as Building Better Lives, begins by encouraging offenders to believe that they can change for the better. The second phase, which involves about 60 therapy sessions, aims to develop an understanding of their offences and work out how to avoid committing such crimes in the future. The final phase involves a maintenance programme. If Humphries were to take part he would transfer to Arbour Hill later in his sentence, to complete some of the final sections of his treatment.

Those who deny their sexual offences or do not join the programme are risk-assessed and monitored.

Careful planning goes into how to return sex offenders to the community, as the stigma often means they cannot return to their previous homes.

Because he was jailed for more than two years Humphries will be indefinitely subject to the Sex Offenders Act. This is commonly offered to as being put on the sex offenders register. Although Ireland has no such register, sex offenders must contact the local Garda station when they move to an area and notify the Garda of any change in their living circumstances or plans to travel abroad.