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Cork Prison Alamy Stock Photo
cork prison

Prison watchdog: Cork inmates afraid to talk to inspectors for fear of reprisal by authorities

The report recorded claims by one inmate that a Black prisoner had been referred to by a prison officer as “a raisin in a bowl of rice”.

THE INSPECTOR OF Prisons has expressed concern that a large number of inmates in Cork Prison were afraid to speak to her inspection team during a recent visit.

Prisoners feared being transferred to another jail by authorities as a repercussion for talking to external inspectors.

The finding was made in a new report by the Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, on how Cork Prison has been operating during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report found a number of prisoners had complained about being discriminated against by prison staff because of either their race or nationality, while non-English speaking inmates had to rely on fellow prisoners for translation and communication.

Approximately 8% of prisoners in the medium-security prison on Rathmore Road, which houses up to 275 prisoners, are foreign nationals.

The report recorded claims by one inmate that a Black prisoner had been referred to by a prison officer as “a raisin in a bowl of rice”.

Another prisoner stated: “We’re ethnic, so people are scared of us.” 

Gilheaney said the lack of in-person family visits during the pandemic had also had a significant impact on prisoners.

The watchdog body said it was concerned that strategies implemented by the authorities in Cork Prison to prevent the spread of the virus had not fully considered outcomes for prisoners.

“These restrictions at all times must have a legal basis, be proportionate and be necessary,” the report stated.

Inspectors said they had been informed by both prisoners and staff of a number of innovative ideas on how to improve access to services and activities during the pandemic.

Gilheaney said the prison authorities should consider consulting with prisoners and staff to address the issues highlighted in its report.

The inspector said Cork Prison had been successful in preventing widespread transmission of Covid-19 with staff and prisoners demonstrating a common effort to prevent it spreading in the jail.

She also said the schools and services in the prison had been proactive in delivering educational and support activities during the pandemic, while prisoners were generally well informed about Covid-19 and prevention measures.

However, some inmates with beards, who did not have a religious exemption, were frustrated that they had to shave them before they were allowed to attend school or engage in a video call with their family.

Gilheany said she felt there was much more that could be done in Cork Prison to support prisoners who did not speak English.

She outlined how one non-English speaking prisoner had not been able to make calls to his family for over five months, despite the authorities claiming he had been able to make calls to his family and solicitor.

While he was subsequently able to make daily calls to relatives, Gilheany said the prisoner had only been provided with such support after her inspection had identified the issue.

Gilheaney said she was particularly concerned at the unusually high number of inmates who feared reprisal, such as transfer to another prison, for engaging with her inspectors.

The chief inspector said a small number of prisoners also reported a culture of bullying by prison staff.

One prisoner said Cork Prison was seen as a “punishment for staff as well as prisoners.”

Gilheaney recommended that all prison staff should participate in ongoing and continuous training and awareness-raising programmes on international human rights standards and principles of equality and non-discrimination.

She also called for Cork Prison and the Irish Prison Service to undertake a robust information campaign to ensure prisoners and prison staff were informed of their right to engage with the Office of the Inspector of Prisons without fear of reprisal.

The Irish Prison Service said it took allegations of discrimination and bullying in Cork Prison very seriously.

“All staff are reminded on a regular basis of the need to treat prisoners and colleagues with respect and dignity” it added.

The IPS said the governor of Cork Prison had advised it that prisoners were never threatened with transfer out of the jail for engaging with the Inspector of Prisons or raising issues of concern.

The IPS rejected a recommendation by the watchdog that all prisoners in quarantine or isolation should have access to at least one hour in the open air each day in relation to several prisons including the one in Cork.

  • Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to find out if everyone is equal in the eyes of the Irish law and prison system

Seán McCárthaigh
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