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Irish prisons need to have a better plan for released inmates

A new prisons report is concerned with homelessness and re-offending among new releases.

Inside the Dóchas Centre for women in Mountjoy.
Inside the Dóchas Centre for women in Mountjoy.
Image: Midas productions

HOMELESSNESS IS THE grim prospect awaiting some inmates after they have served their time in Ireland’s largest women’s prison.

The Prison Visiting Committee’s Report for 2015, published yesterday, has highlighted an ongoing concern for what happens to prisoners once they are released back into society.

The report for the Dóchas centre, the women’s facility housed on the grounds of Mountjoy prison in Dublin, flags a number of problems that remain since the committee’s last visit. These include overcrowding (120 prisoners in a facility equipped for 105), drug use and the jailing of mothers with young infants.

The fate of these women post-release is also troubling. The report draws attention to:

the lack of protected/sheltered accommodation for some women on release from the Centre, homelessness, the lack of a ‘one-stop’ shop providing information on supports and services and the absence of a streamlined delivery of these supports when they leave the Centre, and the difficulty in accessing addiction or counselling services on release.

New policy to tackle homelessness

This, the report continues, is “not an exhaustive list” and in their summary of all prisons, reveals that a new pre-release planning policy is being worked up for the Irish Prison Service and should be published shortly.

The idea is to tackle the homelessness risk to newly-released prisoners and improve conditions that may increase the risk of recidivism.

Another initiative noted in the report is a pilot programme of “positive family support interventions” including a parenting programme being run in Limerick Prison with a view to rolling this out to other prisons in 2016 and 2017.

The full report, which can be viewed here, praises improvements in several prisons including the completion of the “modern, bright and spacious” new Cork Prison, and high level of training and education available in Loughan House.

However, the “seriously under-staffed” medical services available in Midlands Prison are of huge concern as is the mental health of prisoners in the crowded environment of Mountjoy.

Drug abuse in Wheatfield Prison was singled out:

Drug-free landings are on offer to prisoners who wish to avail, but drugs still end up on these landings… Under no circumstances should prisoners that have not been cleared for these landings end up here.

And Cloverhill had a number of issues highlighted, including the complete lack of a psychologist in the prison – “an urgent need” – as well as shortages in night nursing cover, in the Education Unit, and serious assaults happening in the yard of the prison.

This last complaint was attributed in part to staff using so-called ‘yard hubs’ in which to shelter. However, these have had the effect of reducing staff visibility. The result, says the report, is that “serious assaults have occurred, and with the lack of officer presence in the yards this will continue to happen”.

There is also a sad reflection of serious crime in the outside world in this description of the “substantial increase” in prisoners looking for protection once they enter the prison:

The alarming growth of protection is a consequential reflection of the gang culture in society. As we highlighted previously external gang feud affiliations do not stop at the gate of the prison when people are committed to prison.

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