Irish Penal Reform Trust

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29th November 2004

VOICES RISING - Volume 2, Number 11




3) IPRT Launches International Report on Prison Syringe Exchange

4) IPRT Provides Technical Assistance to Bulgarian Ministry of Justice

5) IPRT participates in International Survey on Education in Prisons

6) IPRT presents at World Health Organisation conference on prisons

7) "Immediate action required by Government to address serious deficiencies in places of detention" says Human Rights Commission.


· UK – “For Blair there is no such thing as legal principle" by Helena Kennedy, The Guardian

· CANADA – "Federal prisons ombudsman calls for clean needle exchange for inmates" by John Ward, Canadian Press

· UK – “A generation of troubled youngsters 'criminalised'" by Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson, The Independent (UK)

· UK – "Prison visits 'cut reoffending'" – BBC News


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The IPRT has moved into new offices.

Our new address is

53 Parnell Square West

Dublin 1



Our new phone lines are not yet installed, and until that time we continue to accept messages on our old phone number.  Our email address remains the same.

IPRT Launches International Report on Prison Syringe Exchange

On November 18th, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and Merchant's Quay Ireland organised the European launch of the new report, "Prison Needle Exchange: Lessons from a Comprehensive Review of International Evidence and Experience".

This report is the most comprehensive study ever published on the issue of prison syringe exchange programmes. The report, authored by a team of international experts and published by the Montreal-based Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, concludes that the controlled provision of sterile syringes in prisons

  • reduces risk behavior and disease (including HIV and Hep C) transmission;
  • has other positive outcomes for the health of prisoners;
  • does not endanger staff or prisoner safety, and in fact, make prisons safer places to live and work;
  • does not increase drug use or injecting;
  • has been successfully implemented in a wide variety of prison environments.

Speaking at the event were Rick Lines (report co-autor and IPRT Executive Director), Dr. Jean Long (Health Research Board) and Dr. Joe Barry (Senior Lecturer in Public Health in the Department of Community Health and General Practice, Trinity College Dublin). The event was chaired by Tony Geoghegan, Director of Merchant's Quay Ireland.

The launch was attended by over 50 people from community and voluntary drugs agencies, health boards, representatives of the National Drugs Strategy Team and the Irish Prisons Service as well as TDs.

In a press release, the IPRT and Merchant's Quay Ireland called upon the Government to pilot test a prison syringe exchange programme in Ireland.

IPRT Provides Technical Assistance to Bulgarian Ministry of Justice

From October 25-29,  IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines traveled to Sofia to advise officials from the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice on the development and implementation of a strategic plan for HIV/AIDS in prisons. During the mission he visited three prisons in different regions of the country, met with prisoners and prison staff and held a series of meetings with senior officials in the Ministries of Justice and Health.

This Technical Assistance Mission was part of a joint project between the United Nations Development Program and the Canadian Public Health Association.  Following the conclusion of the mission, a report with recommendations was prepared by the IPRT and submitted to the relevant officials in Bulgaria.

Photos from the Techincal Assistance Mission are posted on the IPRT website.

IPRT participates in International Survey on Education in Prisons

The IPRT is the Irish partner in International Watch on Education in Prisons, a UNESCO-affiliated international initiative based in Brussels.  In November, the IPRT completed and submitted a detailed survey of the current provision of prison educational programmes and services in Irish prisons that will be included in the 2005 report of International Watch.  

We would like to thank IPRT Board member Gearóid Ó Loingsigh for his work in compiling the report, and to those officials in the Irish Prison Service, the VEC, PACE and other organisations that provided us with information on their programmes.

IPRT presents at World Health Organisation conference on prisons

On October 21 and 22, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines travelled to The Netherlands to participate in the World Health Organization's annual meeting of the European Network on Prison and Health.  The meeting focused on the issue of drugs and harm reduction in prisons. At the meeting, Mr. Lines gave a presentation on the issue of prison syringe exchange.

"Immediate action required by Government to address serious deficiencies in places of detention" says Human Rights Commission

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has submitted observations to the Government on the Third Report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) following the Committee's visit to Ireland in February 2002. The observations measure the extent to which the Government has taken action to address the issues of concern identified by the CPT and makes recommendations on what actions should be taken to meet international human rights standards.

The President of the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Maurice Manning, stated "It is a matter of concern to us in the Commission that the Report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture has noted a number of areas in which the rights of those in detention - in police custody, in prisons, in mental health institutions, and in children's centres - are not respected to the level demanded under international treaties to which Ireland is a party".

Ireland ratified the Council of Europe Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1988.  Under this Convention, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture has the right to visit and report on places of detention.  It has visited Ireland on three occasions:  1993; 1998; and 2002.

In the view of the Commission inadequate, or in some cases, no action has been taken by the Government to address a number of issues highlighted by the CPT in relation to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty.  The IHRC notes that the CPT has consistently highlighted a number of these problems since its first visit to Ireland in 1993. 

Amongst the main recommendations made by the IHRC are the following:

• Immediate steps should be taken to bring to an end the practice of holding mentally ill prisoners in padded cells and to ensure their transfer without delay to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH).  In February 2002 the CPT immediately communicated its urgent concern to the Government that the practice of detaining prisoners in need of psychiatric treatment in padded cells for long periods because of the lack of places in the CMH could well be characterised as inhuman and degrading treatment.  The CPT called on the Government to take immediate steps to bring this practice to an end and to ensure the transfer of patients to the CMH without delay.  The IHRC is gravely concerned that the detention of persons in padded cells awaiting transfer to the CMH remains widespread; progress has been extremely slow in creating more beds in the CMH for prisoners being transferred; and there has been limited progress in providing and utilising safety observation cells within the prison system.  The CPT has been highlighting its concerns on this issue since 1993.  The Commission notes that yesterday in the Dáil the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform again reiterated his intention to address this issue.  However, while some safety observation cells have been built in Cloverhill Prison, the use of padded cells persists throughout the Irish prison system. 

• In line with its commitment to the CPT the Government should amend the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002 to provide protection for those persons transferred from prison to the Central Mental Hospital whether on remand or following sentence by Ministerial Order.

• In line with the CPT Standards, the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 should be amended to give the Ombudsman Commission the power to visit and inspect a Garda station of its own volition in a regular and unannounced fashion.

• The Criminal Justice Act 1984 (Electronic Recording of Interviews) Regulations 1997 should be amended to require members of the Garda Síochána to video-record all interviews carried out with suspects in custody. Only exceptional extenuating circumstances can justify non-compliance with this requirement. 

• Human rights concepts should be fully integrated into all the training of An Garda Síochána. The IHRC also calls for the publication of the commissioned human rights audit of Garda policies and strategies.

• The independence, functions and powers of the Inspector of Prisons should be laid down in statute as a matter of priority.  In addition, an independent and impartial individual complaints mechanism for prisoners such as a Prison Ombudsman should be established.  The Prison Ombudsman should have the power to receive and hear complaints from prisoners; to effectively investigate all allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners, and to take the appropriate action on the basis of the findings of its investigation.

• A systematic audit of prison conditions should be carried out with reference to the CPT Standards and a long-term prison strategy should be put in place to address the conditions of detention.  The IHRC is gravely concerned that the overall conditions of detention in much of the Irish prison system are unsatisfactory and do not comply with the CPT Standards and the developing requirements under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Many Irish prisons are persistently over-crowded, they lack adequate sanitation facilities, and have insufficient education and employment programmes. The CPT has been highlighting these issues since its first visit to Ireland in 1993 but there is little evidence of progressive improvement in prison conditions over this time.   

• Prison is not a suitable institution in which to hold persons who are subject to a deportation order and who have not been convicted of a criminal offence.  Specially designated detention centres with a more relaxed regime would be more suitable for immigration detainees and their families.

• The proposal by the Government to redevelop the new Central Mental Hospital on the same site as the new Mountjoy prison is a matter of grave concern to the IHRC.  The IHRC considers that this is highly inappropriate and could undermine the right of mentally ill patients to be treated in a hospital environment.

• In light of the recommendations of the CPT and a recent judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, a comprehensive legislative framework should be put in place to regulate the admittance and treatment of persons with intellectual disabilities in residential centres and psychiatric hospitals.  Compliant incapacitated persons who are incapable of consenting or objecting to admittance can now be regarded as being "deprived of their liberty" within the meaning of Article 5 of the ECHR.  Therefore, they should be afforded the same protections and safeguards as persons involuntarily committed under part 2 of the Mental Health Act 2001. 

• The remaining parts of the Children Act 2001 should be commenced without further delay, and sufficient resources should be provided to fund early intervention programmes and community based sanctions to ensure that the principle of detention of juveniles as a measure of last resort is effectively complied with.  Children should not be detained under any circumstances in police stations or prisons because there are no places available for them in a suitable institution.

"The overarching theme of our recommendations to Government is the need for accountability by those charged with dealing with this vulnerable sector, i.e. detained persons, and within that with particularly vulnerable groups such as children, immigrants and persons with mental disabilities.  The recommendations we make are specific and in many instances reiterate the views expressed in the CPT Report, and we hope the Government will give careful consideration to them" concluded Dr. Manning.

"For Blair there is no such thing as legal principle" by Helena Kennedy, The Guardian

There is private, political glee in government circles that the raft of illiberal measures announced in the Queen's speech has seen the Tories well and truly scuppered. It is now impossible for Michael Howard to find a set of sustainable policies to the right of Tony Blair. As a Labour peer of recent vintage explained to me, "politics is about winning". Principle is a second-order issue.

Labour governments have always had to prove that they are as financially astute as Conservatives, that they can run the military and are not afraid of war. When it comes to law and order, they really have to show their mettle - not so much taking no prisoners as taking lots of prisoners. As a result, many have interpreted the last seven years of Home Office policy merely as an expression of New Labour's desire to show it is not a party of spineless social workers.

In the early days of New Labour, I too used to think that the government was simply anxious to show that it could play hardball. I now think something more complex is taking place.

Globalisation generates intense feelings of vulnerability. People are easily alarmed by the idea that barbarians are at every gate, in the form of terrorists, asylum seekers and criminals. They are prepared to sacrifice a significant level of freedom and privacy in exchange for greater security.

Governments, meanwhile, increasingly see citizens as consumers, to be listened to through the marketing device of focus groups. This government-as-product-supplier pursues market share, redesigns the brand, and purveys policy on a "what works" basis rather than on principle.

But there are some areas of our lives - including the justice system - where a reliance on economic drivers or populist desires creates distortions, injustice and outcomes that take no account of the common good. Justice is not a commodity.

New Labour's warm embrace of the market, and its endeavour to thin out the role of the state in the delivery of public services, calls upon it to chart new waters. In New Labour's post-state vision, criminal justice can look like another aspect of state provision that is ripe for rebalancing, giving more power to the consumer - identified here as the victim. The problem is that the accused and detainees are also consumers of the criminal justice system; the system is in fact a social good belonging to all of us.

In government rhetoric, the criminal process is disingenuously described as a contest between the citizen-victim and the criminal. What is actually taking place is the rebalancing of power towards the state. In a culture where we are all encouraged to think of ourselves as potential victims of criminals or terrorists, we easily forget that the state is capable of victimising us more effectively.

The mistake government ministers make is that they think they are "the state" and, since they are all nice folk, any concern about "thin ends of wedges" is dismissed as intemperate. The myth is that the modern state is benign: dictatorial methods are deemed unsustainable in western democracies and we should therefore be prepared to revisit legal principles created when democracies were more fragile. By the same logic, civil libertarian objections are seen as outmoded, the product of a different political reality.

Debates about "new legal regimes" have been gaining momentum since the 1980s. Authoritarians in the US and here believe that the criminal standard of proof is too high, that an accused should be required to prove his or her innocence, that juries are inefficient, uneconomic and irrational. The conviction rate, they argue, should be the measure of success, even if there is some collateral damage in the form of wrongful convictions. Pre-emptive detention should also be possible where there is risk of offending. In many of these areas of possible change the US is inhibited by its constitution, but the UK knows no such restraint.

Former Conservative ministers say that these ideas would regularly emerge when the Irish Troubles were rife but were rejected as unsellable to British people. What has changed since then is the global context. The anxiety that globalisation brings has been crowned by fear-inducing rhetoric about international terrorism.

The public are always sold the erosion of civil liberties on the basis that decent citizens have nothing to fear. And we, the citizens, can easily feel the current move is all about the "other" - terrorists, paedophiles, anti-social yobs, Muslims, young blacks, the mentally ill. We always think it is other people's liberty that is being traded, which somehow makes it all right. We do not realise that liberty is not divisible in this way.

Anti-terror laws cannot be vacuum packed; they seep into the policing culture and create new paradigms of state power. During a visit to India this spring, the home secretary suggested that governments may have to consider whether the burden of proof might have to be lowered from "beyond reasonable doubt" to the civil test of the "balance of probabilities" in terrorist trials. Two days later, the prime minister agreed that such a change should be considered, and he went further, suggesting that the lower standard might also apply to other serious crime.

What is introduced today for terrorism almost invariably enters general usage shortly thereafter. The right to silence was first emasculated in terrorism cases in Northern Ireland in 1988, but the erosion of the right was extended into all domestic law in the UK in 1994. The proposal to lower the standard of proof is now part of the new "pre-emptive" civil order proposals for terrorists, coming before parliament in the next session.

Fundamental shifts are taking place in our justice system with barely a whimper of opposition. On June 18 2002, the prime minister claimed that the "biggest miscarriage of justice in today's system is when the guilty walk away unpunished". In that statement he sought to overturn centuries of legal principle and the approach to justice that every mature democracy in the world respects, whereby the conviction of an innocent man is deemed the greatest miscarriage of justice. For Tony Blair there is no such thing as legal principle, as we saw in the rejection of international legal principle in relation to the Iraq war. For him, everything is negotiable.

However, just law matters. It is the mortar that fills the gaps between nations, people and communities, creating a social bond without which the quality of our lives would be greatly undermined. If we fritter away the principles that underpin law, if we pick them out of the crannies of our political and social architecture, restoration will be impossible. The US supreme court justice, Louis Brandeis, got it right 75 years ago: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself."

· Baroness Helena Kennedy QC is the author of Just Law: the Changing Face of Justice 

© The Guardian

"Federal prisons ombudsman calls for clean needle exchange for inmates" by John Ward, Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - The federal prisons ombudsman says Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan should order the establishment of needle exchange programs in penitentiaries.

Howard Sapers, officially known as the correctional investigator, said in his annual report Thursday that the Correctional Service of Canada has ignored such recommendations for years.

Sapers turned directly to McLellan this year.

He said drug use is rampant in prisons - in some places three-quarters of inmates inject drugs - and clean needle programs would reduce the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.

"It's not a question of whether we condone it or not condone it," he said.

Since infected inmates eventually get released into the community, "this is a public health issue."

He said similar programs in other countries have reduced the spread of disease and shown that giving needles to inmates doesn't mean they'll be used as weapons against guards.

Conservative MP Kevin Sorenson said the prison system supposedly has a zero-tolerance policy on drug use, yet is faced with the idea of providing clean needles.

He said he hopes the government takes into account the concerns of the guards.

"Some corrections officers need gloves to avoid needle sticks while going through searches," he said.

Sapers commended the Correctional Service on setting up a pilot program to provide safe tattoos to prisoners. Primitive tattooing apparatus can also spread disease.

His report also said McLellan should order the correctional service to appoint a deputy commissioner for aboriginal inmates and to change a policy that automatically makes prisoners sentenced to life serve their first two years in maximum security, regardless of the risk they pose.

Finally, Sapers asked McLellan to get the prison system to issue a formal response to recommendations of a report almost 10 years ago by Justice Louise Arbour.

She produced the report after a confrontation in Kingston's infamous prison for women in which male guards forcibly subdued female inmates.

"Canadians expect a system that provides safe, humane custody which is respectful of human rights and supports the offenders' successful re-integration into society," Sapers said.

A spokesman for McLellan said the recommendations will be studied and she will respond in writing later.

The report said there should be a review of the problems facing aboriginals in prison, especially since they make up an inordinate percentage of inmates.

"While 41 per cent of non-aboriginal offenders are serving their sentences on conditional release in the community, only 31 per cent of aboriginal offenders are on conditional release," the report said.

Sapers said the corrections system has responded to many of his previous recommendations, but still falls short in some areas.

"Corrections is a difficult and at times thankless business, yet it is a key element of our criminal justice system," he said.

Sapers also cited a shortage of mental health services in the prison system as a problem that needs to be addressed.

The report was prepared after his investigators looked at 7,000 inmate complaints in the last year, a large number from a federal prison population of only 12,000 people.

Kim Pate of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a support group for female prisoners and parolees, said she welcomed Sapers' recommendations.

She said many women in prison are in dire need of mental health programs.

Sapers also said there are issues surrounding younger inmates and elderly prisoners, both growing populations behind bars

The system "continues not to recognize the need to provide special housing programming or other services for young offenders."

 © The Canadian Press 2004

"A generation of troubled youngsters 'criminalised'" by Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson, The Independent (UK)

Daisy is 17 years old, profoundly deaf and has been in prison for more than a month. Her crime was spitting in public, an offence which earned her an anti-social behaviour order - or ASBO - and subsequently a jail term.

The teenager is one of nearly 1,000 young people aged from 10 to 20 who have been punished with ASBOs over the past year. There are no exact figures, but as many as one in three children in youth jails are there for breaching an ASBO.

Lawyers, prison reformers and civil liberties groups now say the Government's anti-yob crusade is actually criminalising a generation of troubled youngsters and that Britain's jails are being filled by young people in breach of ASBOs.

But supporters of the reforms point to the huge successes brought about by the ASBO revolution, which they say has transformed the no-go zones that were blighted by "yob culture".

Magistrates can issue an ASBO for any behaviour which causes "harassment, alarm or distress", but the terms of the order can vary widely. ASBOs are civil penalties, but if the orders are breached the offender can face up to five years in prison.

Take the example of Camden in London, one of the ASBO hotspots which has issued 100 orders, most in just two years in a clampdown on drug addicts and street drinking. Silla Carron, who chairs the Clarence Way tenants' association in Camden, said an ASBO rid the estate of an addict who was using the estate's stairwells to use drugs after which he would defecate and vomit.

"It was very intimidating," she said. "One elderly tenant was in tears because she wanted to go out and get some milk but she couldn't because she was so scared.

"Because of ASBOs, where we had nothing we've now got something. It's about the community standing up."

Last week the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, trumpeted the use of ASBOs while announcing 50 communities across Britain which will get more help to tackle anti-social behaviour, including new anti-social behaviour response courts, plus extra funding.

But campaigners fear ASBOs are being pushed too far. Take Daisy's case. She ended up in prison because she ignored an order not to spit in public. Her instinctive response, when distressed, is to spit.

Her identity is not being revealed for legal reasons but the Howard League, which campaigns for penal reform, will use her case in cautioning MPs against a widespread use of ASBOs.

A total of 3,069 ASBOs have been handed out in England and Wales since they were introduced five years ago, 2,600 of these in the past year alone.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

"Prison visits 'cut reoffending'" -- BBC News

Supporting the families of prisoners could significantly cut crime, according to international research.

A conference in Edinburgh on Monday will hear that inmates who keep up family ties are up to six times less likely to reoffend.

Scotland's prisons now run a range of programmes to help those behind bars keep contact with their families.

But delegates at the conference, organised by Families Outside, will be told that the support is too patchy.

The gathering, which will attract experts from throughout the UK, will hear from the family members of prisoners.

They are expected to say that the experience of having a loved one locked up is like being in a "prison with no bars".

Angela Morgan, director of Families Outside, said: "There is now good evidence that if support is given to prisoners' families this has a beneficial effect for not only the families and their relative in prison, but also for society.

"The benefits of family life are widely accepted - this is no less true for prisoners than for anyone else."

The conference will be addressed by a range of speakers describing projects and approaches which can provide families with the support, information and involvement they need to play a part in their relatives' rehabilitation.


There will also be a keynote speech from Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson.

The chief inspector of prisons, Dr Andrew McLellan, will chair the conference at the Roxburgh Hotel in the capital.

He said: "The room for visits is such an important room in a prison - most prisoners would say the most important room.

"Good family relationships will keep prisoners out of trouble in the future - the cost of breakdown in family relationships will be paid for years to come."

Scotland continues to have a big problem with reoffending.

The latest statistics showed that two thirds of people being sentenced have a previous conviction.

© BBC News, 2004

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