Irish Penal Reform Trust

January 2021 Census Reports

6th August 2021

January 2021 Prison Population Census Reports were published by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) during the week of 2nd August 2021. IPRT called for the publication of these delayed census reports on 30th July 2021 in response to the publication of the Irish Prison Service Annual Report.

We acknowledge the transparency shown by the IPS in detailing the number of people held on 24-hour solitary confinement. However, anyone being held in 24-hour confinement in Irish prisons is a cause for serious concern.

Key points from the reports:

  • The number of people in solitary confinement (i.e. 22+ hours in a cell) increased from 327 (Oct 2020) to 413.
  • In January 2021, 74 people were being held on 24-hour solitary confinement. This is the first time the Irish Prison Service has reported anyone being on 24-hour confinement in Census Reports. At the date of data collection, the prisons where people were being held on this regime were Cloverhill, Midlands, Cork and Loughan House.
  • The number of people subject to a restricted regime (i.e. with less than five hours daily out-of-cell time) increased from 728 (October 2020) to 824 (January 2021), an increase of 13%.
  • In January, people on restricted regimes for reasons relating to COVID-19 (Rule 103) amounted to 36% of all people held on restricted regimes.
  • The number of prisoners accommodated in single cells increased from 1,964 (Oct 2020) to 2,048. The percentage of prisoners accommodated in single cells increased from 52% (Oct 2020) to 56%.
  • The number of prisoners who were required to use the toilet in the presence of another prisoner decreased from 1,714 (Oct 2020) to 1,530. This is a decrease in percentage terms from 45% to 42% of all people in prison.
  • The number of prisoners required to slop out decreased slightly from 47 (Oct 2020) to 45 prisoners. This remained at roughly 1% of the total prison population.

Over the course of the pandemic, several reports, including the Office of the Inspector of Prisons (OIP) Annual Report, OIP COVID-19 Thematic Inspection reports and Prison Chaplain Annual Reports have noted that prisoners on pandemic-related restrictions have been held in conditions akin to solitary confinement. With the roll-out of vaccination in prisons, reliance on these restrictive measures must be reduced. The CPT has made clear that restrictive measures in prisons should be subject to regular review and “must be lifted as soon as they are no longer required”. It is crucial that the IPS puts in action measures to ease COVID-related restrictions as soon as it is possible to do so. This should include providing prisoners with a written copy of the Framework for Living with COVID-19 (as recommended by the OIP, p.11), and publishing it online. This would increase transparency and reassure prisoners and their families.

While we welcome that this data has been published following a delay, this data is a snapshot only and does not capture trends or day-to-day fluctuations, or minimum and maximum values throughout the period of restrictions. IPRT repeats our previous calls for the IPS to publish data on the number of days prisoners are held on restricted regimes as well as data on the number of hours of out-of-cell time provided to the general prison population.

Additionally, IPRT remains concerned by amendments made to the Prison Rules in July 2020 allow a Governor or the Director General to suspend or restrict or modify entitlements to physical exercise, recreation, training and visits for reasons of infectious disease control. These amendments have no sunset clause and received little scrutiny before they were brought into force. IPRT has called on the Minister for Justice to repeal these amendments as soon as possible (and no later than the same time as other COVID-related regulations are repealed).

All Prison Population Census Reports are available on the Irish Prison Service website here.

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