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Overcrowding and treatment of older prisoners issues at Arbour Hill Prison

Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, said that an action plan has been prepared by the Irish Prison Service to implement the recommendations in the report.

The entrance to Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin
The entrance to Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

OVERCROWDING IS AN issue at Arbour Hill Prison, according to Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly. He has also called for a greater awareness of the situation of elderly prisoners, in a report published today.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter TD, published the report of Judge Reilly and the Arbour Hill Prison Visiting Committee for 2011.

Minister Shatter said that he was pleased to announce that following on from the Inspector’s report, the Irish Prison Service has prepared an Action Plan for the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Inspector’s report.

In particular, as part of the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2012 – 2014, it is intended to introduce a specific strategy for older prisoners.

Minister Shatter complimented the Governor and staff of Arbour Hill Prison for their continued good work and said: “Arbour Hill Prison is a good example of how things should be done”.

In his report, Judge Reilly complimented the management team, staff and Governor of the prison on its cleanliness, the fact that prisoners are engaged in relevant structed activity, its safe atmosphere and the programmes that aid prisoners reintegrating into society after their release.

He said he is satisfied that it is a well-run prison. The prison is a closed medium security committal prison for males aged 17 and over and the majority of prisoners are serving long sentences, with 43 prisoners serving life sentences. The majority of prisoners are sex offenders.

The prison was described as well-maintained and clean. The inspector stated that the prison should accommodate no more than 131 prisoners, but the Irish Prison Service says the bed capacity of the prison is 148. On 5 March 2010, 158 men were in the prison. He said a date should be announced by the Irish Prison Service by which the numbers in Arbour Hill Prison will be capped at 131.

There is an education centre at the prison, a print workshop that satisfies the printing requirements of the Irish Prison Service and also provides printed goods for other state agencies, charities and voluntary bodies. The braille unit and woodwork shop also provide services. The fabric workshop meets the total demands for bed sheets and pillow cases for all prisons, which leads to a saving to the Irish Prison Service of between €350,000 and €400,000 per annum.

The inspector noted the the Building Better Lives programme (BBL) therapeutic programme for  men who acknowledge that they have committed a sexual offence, which is used in the prison.

He also noted:

It is difficult, if not virtually impossible, to provide accommodation post release for very high profile offenders or those assessed as being at high risk for fear that the location of their accommodation will become known to the public.  This highlights the need for special accommodation and support facilities for this coterie of offenders. Sufficient facilities are not, at present, provided by statutory or voluntary agencies.

Arbour Hill Prison is considered a drug free prison and prisoners on methadone are not transferred there.

The inspector had a number of concerns, particularly around the elderly prisoners.

For many managing their daily tasks is only achieved with the assistance of fellow prisoners.  Their difficulties are exacerbated by overcrowding in the prison.

The inspector added:

I have witnessed a blind man trying to take his daily exercise in the yard with no other aid than his white stick.  I have witnessed another prisoner trying to get around his cell and the immediate space outside his door on the landing with a Zimmer frame.  I have witnessed men with dementia and those that are incontinent.  The prison and outside agencies give instruction and practical help to prisoners with sight or mobility problems which greatly assist such prisoners in their daily lives.

The inspector stated that every effort must be made to ensure that prisoners who do not subscribe to the Roman Catholic Faith must be accommodated to enable them practice their religion.

He also said the Irish Prison Service and local management must be conscious that, “even in the very difficult financial situation being experienced at present”, there “should be no diminution in the regimes and services at the prison”.

Read: Ireland takes steps to improve prison conditions>

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