Conditions of Detention
The comments of the CPT regarding conditions of detention were some of the most depressing in the report given how little has changed since their previous visit in 2006 despite the ‘boom’ years.
On Cork prison, the CPT reported little change since its first visit to Ireland in 1993, noting limited space but rising numbers, with no corresponding increase in facilities be they workshops, showers, toilets, for visits or medical facilities. In its view, material conditions had deteriorated since 1993 (page 26).
Some of the detail is disturbing. The CPT reported that most cells were holding two inmates, while at least 25 were holding three, with one person sleeping on a mattress on the floor. These prisoners had nowhere to sit or store their belongings. Most cells had very little natural light and poor artificial light. Some cells had water leaking into them from the roof. Prisoners on protection might spend 23 hours a day locked up in the one cell. The cells were designed for one person and measured between 7.5 and 9 square metres.
The lack of in-cell sanitation was exacerbated for some prisoners who were left without a chamber pot. A bottle was used for urinating and a plastic bag for defecating, if necessary, by three prisoners in one cell. The CPT noted that not only was this a health hazard, it was also degrading (page 26).
Prisoners complained of being offered only one shower per week and allowed to change their underwear not more than once per week.
The CPT recommended that cells of 7.5 square metres no longer hold more than one prisoner and efforts should be made to avoid as far as possible placing two prisoners in 9 square metre cells. In a stark recommendation, it stated that none of the cells should hold three inmates. It also recommended that the prison be kept in an adequate state of repair and to consider increasing the frequency of showers in Cork.
The CPT also stated that the female unit of Limerick does “not offer good living conditions” (page 27). Cells designed for single occupancy “always appeared” to accommodate two women and “frequently” held three, with the third either sleeping on a mattress on the floor or sharing a bed with a cell-mate. Each cell is approximately nine square metres with a toilet and sink. There is a sliding modesty screen providing some privacy from those looking into the cell but not from other inmates in the cell. The toilets had no cover seats, some did not flush properly and there was a lack of detergent products. Showers were flooded and dispensed tepid water and the washing machines and dryers were inadequate. The CPT recommended effort be made to avoid placing two prisoners in a cell and none of them should hold three inmates.
The Government’s response was not promising, stating that the Irish Prison Service “is not in a position to implement the CPT’s recommendation that the 7.5 m2 cells be used to accommodate no more than one prisoner as this could not be achieved without releasing sizeable numbers of prisoners considered unsuitable for release” (page 33). The response referred to the plans to build a new prison at Kilworth, but stated, pithily that it was subject to “the availability of necessary capital resources. Resource limitations at present do not allow the implementation of the entire prisons modernisation programme” (page 33). The Government indicated further that there was a tender out for the improvement of showers and improved workshop facilities were in place. It also stated that cells were unlocked on request in two blocks in the evening to allow prisoners to use the toilets at night. It also stated that a new camping style toilet is being piloted in Cork, Mountjo and Limerick.
In response to the points on Limerick, the Irish authorities pointed to the opening of an extension to the female unit at Limerick in November 2010 which comprises single cells with a toilet and wash hand basin unit.
Midlands Prison was described by the CPT as having “good” living conditions (page 27), with suitably equipped cell of adequate size, partitioned in-cell sanitation and good access to natural light. The wings and landings were kept clean.
On the other hand, however, the Committee was highly critical of conditions at Mountjoy, considering conditions there to be poor. The lack of in-cell sanitation in the main accommodation blocks and the accommodation of two prisoners in cells of eight square metres was described as “totally unacceptable” (page 27). The chamber pots in a number of cells had no cover, pipes were broken or leaking, toilets were out of order, there was an absence of warm water in the shower units in the basement of B block, rubbish bins were overflowing and landings and toilet areas were dirty.
It recommended that efforts should be made to avoid placing two prisoners in a cell designed for single occupancy and that greater efforts be made to keep the prison in an appropriate state of repair.
The Government again pointed to prison building in its response to the CPT’s criticism of Mountjoy, advising that “the construction of the new prison campus at Thornton is the only viable long term solution to the problems identified by the Committee” (page 35), again ignoring the points made by the Committee regarding changes in policy which might also lead to a reduction in prison numbers. In the interim (with no indication given as to how long that interim might be) the Irish Prison Service pointed to the introduction of modesty screens, new cleaning schedules, new cleaning machines, hygiene training for staff and prisoners and daily inspections by Governor grades. It also stated that it is intended to install in-cell sanitation into C block (when A block was renovated in-cell sanitation was not put in place) but this was subject to the structural capacity of the building. In this regard it is pertinent to note comments made by a former Governor of Mountjoy, John Lonergan, who stated that the installation of pipes required for in-cell sanitation in Mountjoy would be impossible as the holes which would be bored would result in the entire prison “falling down”, noting the weakness of the mortar in the prison. The Government stated that the outcome of this experiment, which should be known in May 2011, will determine the extent to which the project can be extended.
Portlaoise was described as a place of contrasts, with the old E block having small (six square metres) cells, some dilapidated, with broken windows and dirty walls (page 28). None of the cells had in-cell sanitation and if a prisoner had to defecate at night, it was likely the prisoner would wrap the faeces up in a parcel and sometime throw it out of the window.