Warning over ‘degrading’ prison conditions amid increasing populations

Warning over 'degrading' prison conditions amid increasing populations

Mark Kelly

Ireland’s chief prisons inspector has warned that the “degrading” conditions seen at Mountjoy Prison could soon “become a grave problem for the prison system as a whole” as a result of increasing numbers of prisoners.

Writing in the foreword to his office’s 2022 annual report, Mark Kelly said inspectors were “shocked” by what they found in an unannounced full inspection of Mountjoy last November and December.

This was the first unannounced full inspection of an Irish prison “for many years”, Mr Kelly noted, and found a significant number of prisoners who were “obliged to sleep on mattresses on the floors of cells designed for single occupancy… wedged at an angle next to the in-cell lavatories”.

Mr Kelly said: “These conditions of detention could be considered degrading. Of course, the root cause of this problem is the rising number of people being held in prison in Ireland.

“Mountjoy Prison for Men is not the only establishment in which the Irish Prison Service is currently unable to offer a proper bed to everyone in its custody.

“Projected rises in the prison population suggest that unless urgent action is taken, such as imposing an enforceable ceiling on the number of people who can be held in each prison, the dramatic situation observed by my team in Mountjoy Prison for Men will become a grave problem for the prison system as a whole.”

The report also notes work to transform the Office of the Inspector of Prisons into a new Office of the Inspectorate of Places of Detention (OIPD) through new legislation.

Mr Kelly said he was happy that ministers had accepted his recommendations to ensure the final version of the bill fully guarantees the independence of the new body.

He also shared his regret that the prisoner complaints system remains “not fit for purpose” and said he would continue to engage with the Department of Justice on this matter.

Commenting on the report, justice minister Helen McEntee said: “The chief inspector of prisons, Mark Kelly was appointed in August 2022 and it is clear that he has set about ensuring that the Office of the Inspector of Prisons continued to carry out the full range of its oversight function of Ireland’s prisons to the fullest extent possible.

“Mr Kelly and his team have met their responsibility of monitoring the treatment of prisoners and the conditions across the full prison estate with great commitment and consideration and I am pleased to have the opportunity to acknowledge this.”

She added: “I welcome the oversight provided in the 2022 annual report, as it is vitally important to the dignity of care and rehabilitation of prisoners. The report is a culmination of the work carried out by the Inspector of Prisons and his dedicated team, along with the support and engagement of the Irish Prison Service staff.

“Effective oversight and evaluation are welcome and important elements in developing and improving our penal system and I want to thank everyone involved for their work.”

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