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Prison reports: Improving facilities, some violence and concerns about lock-ups

Food, education, solitary confinement and slopping out were among the issues discussed in the reports.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice published its annual prison inspection reports today, concerning six institutions.

Throughout the year, the visiting committees met with prisoners and looked at all aspects of life in the prisons. Their annual reports detail what they found.

The inspection teams visited Loughan House, Mountjoy, St Patrick’s Institution, Training Unit, Wheatfield Prison and Portlaoise Prison.

Here are some of the main findings of their reports:

Loughan House

At Loughan House, they praised the food, catering and education department.

However, they said that staffing levels have had an impact on library services.

They also praised the offenders keeping the areas inside and outside the prison clean.

There has been no evidence of racial, religious, sexual or other discrimination at play in Loughan, said the committee.

The staff are courteous and helpful, and the committee found that the “relationship between officer and offender is different and better than that which would be possible in a bigger, closed institution”.

There is a very low level of complaint here, which is “testament to a smooth-running institution which is fit for purpose”.

Mountjoy Prison

The inspectors welcomed the renovations, with the B wing opening and the “depressing” A wing closing for refurbishment.

Many of the improvements the committee has recommended in the past are being attended to.

They said that denial of internet access is limiting people when it comes to education, but a programme called Virtual Campus is being looked at to see if it can be introduced in Ireland.

They said that more needs to be done so that more students become involved in the education centre at Mountjoy.

Visits to the main library have increased significantly. The need for extra space at the prison gym is evident from the waiting lists. The committee also called for more opportunities for participation in outdoor sports, which benefits inmates.

They are not satisfied that the current level of staffing makes for the effective coverage required to deal with the large number of prisoners in Mountjoy, and called for an evaluation of staffing levels.

They received “far too many complaints” about the availability of chaplains in the prison.

They said that they want to look at the lock-up situation, and the frustrations of prisoners locked up for 23 or more hours. In particular, they said the toilet situation – where prisoners in lock up have to use a ‘little pan’ – is “in the very least inhumane and must end in 2013″.

They also said that more will have to be done to protect prisoners from intimidation and offensive acts by other prisoners.

St Patrick’s Institution

By 2017 it is hoped there will be no 17-year old boys here. The inspectors said that the special observation cells – for ‘at risk’ or disruptive inmates – are in an “oppressive place with little daylight” while all the cells are old-fashioned.

A regular problem is when an inmate damages their cell by flooding, setting a fire or wrecking fixtures. “At any time there are cells out of commission due to this”, said the inspectors.

The committee has a major concern about the level of staffing, particularly in the workshops and gyms. They said that because of the ages of the inmates, “any lack of planned activity and exercise can lead to frustration, tension, and sometimes violence”, which is unacceptable.

The committee were disappointed that the services of St Vincent de Paul had been removed from the visitors’ centre.

There is still a problem with contraband being thrown into the netted exercise yards.

Prisoner violence “continues to be problematic”. There were 73 incidents as a result of a fracas or fight, with 72 being assaults from other inmates, while there were 45 incidents of deliberate self harm, rising from 24 in 2011.

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Mountjoy Training Unit

The committee outlined the progress made during the year, including the plans for the incentivised regimes for the unit, the excellent kitchen, the high level of maintenance and the plans for a bicycle repair workshop and maintenance service.

However, it expressed concern about literacy levels, the future viability of the library, and the under-utilisation of workshops.

Wheatfield Prison

Here, the committee said the cells are well maintained, but some prisoners throw their rubbish out of cell windows.

The kitchen “operates at a very high level” while the staff succeeds in making the education facility “stimulating and rewarding”. However, the education programme could do with more resources.

“Bullying, violent and threatening behaviour is not tolerated within the facility and prisoners that engage in negative behaviour are removed,” said the report.

The visiting process “takes up a large amount of staffing resources”. Drugs are an on-going concern, and there is a strict policy on drugs.  The use of drugs in the prison “causes a lot of difficulties”.

Wheatfield Prison has a number of inmates on 23-hour lock up and the committee feel that the prison authorities do try to encourage prisoners to come off this regime.

It is a modern, progressive and very well-run facility, said the committee.

Portlaoise Prison

The committee praised the new state-of-the-art C Block, but was disappointed that only two of the workshops are in operation to date.

The members also praised the education programme, kitchen, and training courses.

Read the response of the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, here.

Read: Shatter responds to concerns about Irish prisons>

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