The CPT on slopping out and regimes in Irish prisons

This is the latest in a series of posts on the report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture on its visit to Ireland during 2010.

The CPT was, once again, critical of the practice of slopping out in our prisons, stating “the CPT has repeatedly stated that it considers the act of discharging human waste, and more particularly of defecating, in a chamber pot in the presence of one or more other persons, in a confined space used as a living area, to be degrading. It is degrading not only for the person using the chamber pot but also for the persons with whom he shares a cell” (page 29).

It went on to say: “the other consequences of such a state of affairs – the hours spent in the presence of chamber pots containing one’s own excreta and that of others and the subsequent “­slopping out procedure” – are scarcely less objectionable. The whole process is extremely humiliating for prisoners. Moreover, “slopping out” is also debasing for the prison officers who have to supervise it”.

The CPT noted that nearly 25% of prisoners (980 in all) are slopping out every day, with, ominously “little prospect of the situation changing radically over the next five years” (page 29) noting that even should Thornton Hall start operating by 2015, there is still no timetable for the replacement of Cork prison. The Government looked at the figures from a different point of view, stating that 72% of the accommodation in the system now has in-cell sanitation and that with planned extensions, the proportion of prisoners with access to full sanitation will rise to over 80%  (page 36) (though if prison numbers continue to increase this figure may be difficult to maintain).

The CPT recommended that a toilet facility should be located in a sanitary annexe to a cell or prisoners should be released without undue delay at all times when they need to use the toilet facilities, finding that in 2010 prisoners were not being let out of their cells when they so needed. In addition, many inmates reported that if they persistently requested to be let out to go to the toilet, they would be the subject of verbal abuse (page 29).

The CPT called upon Ireland to eradicated slopping out and until that is possible, its degrading effects should be minimised.

Regimes

The CPT acknowledged that investment had been made in opportunities for work, education, recreation and sport for prisoners and noted modern classroom arrangements in Limerick and Midlands. While these changes were welcome, the CPT expressed the view that the Irish Prison Service is still not fulfilling the aim set for it under Prison Rule 27(3) which states that every convicted prisoner should be engaged in structured activity for “not less than five hours on each of five days in each week”, noting the importance of such a rule to ensure that time spent in prison is meaningful and to prepare inmates for release.

Out of cell time was considered reasonable at 7.5 hours per day, but the regime in Cork, Mountjoy and Limerick was considered limited, with a lack of space and sometimes lack of staff curtailing services. In Mountjoy, only small numbers of prisoners were engaged in meaningful activity and the rest spent their time in the exercise yards (with no shelter) and between 5.30 and 7.20pm in the recreational areas. By contrast, the range of activities in the Midlands was good, but those participating was still below 50% of the population. Higher rates of participation in education were found at Portlaoise, while in St Patrick’s Institution, despite an increase in the number of workshops and educational courses, the majority of inmates were spending far too much time in their cells with 35 not assigned to any courses at all.

The Committee also referred to the Integrated Sentence Management system which was stated by the Irish Government in its 2006 response to be in the process of piloting with a view to extending it to all prisons. The Committee found that ISM was still only being run on a pilot basis in a few establishments, including Midlands, where only 20 prisoners were involved. Other prisoners complained of a lack of assistance in dealing with long-term sentences and in particular finding out what was required of them by the Parole Board.

In response, the Government stated that 39% of the prison population was attending education classes and an average of 20% attended workshops each day. The capital programme was again considered the best way of redressing these problems. Additional vocational training workshops are not possible in Cork due to restrictions on space, but a “multi-disciplinary soft skills” initiative will be rolled out there in 2011. Otherwise “every effort” was being made to increase educational provision for women in Limerick. New shelters were also being installed in Mountjoy’s exercise yard.

Dedicating a single paragraph to ISM, the Government remarked that ISM was in place in 10 prisons for new committals serving sentences of one year and upwards with the intention that it be in all institutions by the end of 2010. Limited detail on the nature of ISM is given, but the Government does state that there is limited scope for incorporating life sentence prisoners into ISM.

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The CPT on slopping out and regimes in Irish prisons

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