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Report details case of mentally ill inmate found lying naked on floor of cell

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture has published a report on Irish prisons today.
Nov 24th 2020, 9:46 AM 37,456 25

Updated Nov 24th 2020, 4:30 PM

THE COUNCIL OF Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture found a mentally ill prisoner lying naked in his cell in an Irish prison, with faeces and urine on the floor.

The CPT has today published its report on its seventh periodic visit to Ireland, which took place from 25 September to 4 October 2019. 

In the five prison establishments visited, prisoners stated that the vast majority of prison officers treated them correctly.

However, a small number of prison officers are inclined to use more physical force than is necessary and to verbally abuse prisoners, the committee outlined. 

  • Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to examine overcrowding, medical treatment and access to psychiatric care in jails.

The CPT also found that the current complaints system cannot be considered fit for purpose. 

The committee outlined that most people stated that they were treated corrected by gardaí when detained. 

However, it said there were several allegations of physical ill-treatment and verbal disrespect from remand prisoners. These allegations mostly involved slaps, kicks and punches to various parts of the body. 

Mental health

The Committee was critical of the use of special observation cells (SOCs) in prisons and has called for their use to be reviewed. 

At the time of the committee’s visit to Cloverhill Prison on 29-30 September 2019, one mentally unwell man (identified as PM) was found lying naked in his cell, with the cell smeared with faeces and puddles of urine on the floor.

He had been managed in an SOC since 17 September, awaiting transfer to the Central Mental Hospital. 

There were no blankets in the cell and his clothing – described in the report as a ‘poncho’ – was lying next to him, soaked in urine.

Prison officers explained that the door to the SOC was only opened using the protection of a shield to pass him food. 

During his time in the cell, he had not been provided with a shower or let out of the cell. 

PM was bailed by the High Court to a psychiatric hospital in the community on 2 October 2019. However, the CPT noted that he had still not been afforded a shower prior to his transfer. 

The CPT said the condition this man, along with another inmate, were found in might amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment”. 

The CPT stated that the high support units at Cloverhill, Cork and Mountjoy prisons – which accommodate mentally ill prisoners – offered poor conditions and inadequate treatment.

It said that if the high support units at the three prisons are to provide a stepping stone towards admission to a psychiatric hospital or a step-down unit for managing people returned to prison from a psychiatric facility, it is essential that they be provided with the appropriate resources. 

This is not currently the case, the CPT said, adding that a programme of structured activities, including occupational therapy sessions, should be developed for prisoners held on these units. 

Another major concern from the CPT was the rising number of homeless people with severe mental health problems who are ending up in prison. 

Immigration

The CPT found that immigration detainees continue to be held at Cloverhill Prison, and other prisons, with remand and convicted prisoners. It said that in some cases they are subject to abuse and bullying. 

The CPT has called upon the authorities to put in place a specifically designed centre for immigration detainees with specific immigration rules in accordance with the Committee’s requirements. 

It has requested information on the conditions and regime afforded to immigration detainees pending the opening of such a unit. 

Reform

The committee acknowledged that steps have been taken by the Irish authorities since 2014 to reform the prison system. 

It welcomed the fact that children are no longer held in prison. 

However, it noted that considerable challenges remain. 

In particular, it recommended that action should be taken to address local overcrowding in prisons and to ensure prisoners do not have to sleep on mattresses on the floor, and that all multiple occupancy cells are equipped with fully partitioned toilet facilities. 

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Response

In its response to the report, the Irish government provide information on the steps being taken to address the issues raised by the CPT. 

In particular, it refers to the ongoing reform process of An Garda Síochána and the various measures being taken to promote alternatives to imprisonment and to ensure that prisons have sufficient capacity and are able to provide adequate conditions and regimes. 

Reference is also made to a number of prison reviews in the areas of health care, including mental health, and the use of SOCs, as well as the reform of the complaints system. 

The government said mental health in the criminal justice system is a top priority. 

It said the Minister for Justice is engaging with the Minister for Health with a view to the early establishment of a taskforce on the matter. 

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is now calling on the Government to act on the recommendations of the CPT in full.

IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: 

“The conditions experienced by prisoners who are unwell and in psychiatric distress are upsetting, disturbing, and in some cases dehumanising. Government must act now on its commitments and progress the cross-departmental task force on mental health, addictions and imprisonment. This task force must be action driven and prioritise diversion away from the criminal justice system. 

“This is the first published inspection report of a closed prison in Ireland since the CPT’s previous report in 2015,” she said.

“We should not have to rely on international visitors to find out what is happening in our prisons. The Inspector of Prisons has been poorly resourced in recent years, and the increase in budget allocation in 2021 is promising. However, the Inspectorate will only be truly effective when its powers are strengthened in law, and publish inspection reports directly.

“The Irish Prison Service committed to introducing a new complaints system this month, with the Ombudsman due to take on a role in prisoner complaints within 12 months. This will be five years after the recommendation that prisoners can access the Ombudsman was first accepted by the Minister for Justice in 2016, and must not be further delayed,” said Ní Chinnéide. 

The full report can be read here and the full response from the Irish government can be read here

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