Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #9

30th August 2004

VOICES RISING - Volume 2, Number 8


1) McDOWELL'S OWN "BERTIE-BOWL": Massive prison building plan shows PDs not immune to the allure of big-budget escapades, says IPRT


2) FIVE QUESTIONS MICHAEL McDOWELL MUST ANSWER: IPRT opinion piece from the Irish Examiner


3) IPRT LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE:\ is Ireland’s most comprehensive internet resource on prisons and prisoners’\ rights



  • Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israeli Prisons Begin Hunger Strike
  • British\ Court Decision Undermines Global Torture Ban, says Human Rights Watch
  • U.S.\ Prison Abuse Panel Doesn't Go Far Enough, says Human Rights Watch

McDowell's own "Bertie-Bowl"

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today criticised Minister Michael McDowell's plans for massive prison expansion, likening the two new "super-prisons" slated for construction in Dublin and Cork to the controversial "Bertie-Bowl" stadium criticised by the PDs during the general election campaign.

Commenting on reports that Minister McDowell is continuing to push ahead plans to increase Ireland's prison spaces by 25%, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines said, "It is surely disturbing to watch the Minister run full steam ahead with this ill-conceived and massive building plan when he has yet to explain why Ireland needs 1,000 or more new prison places. Given the PDs criticism of the proposed Campus Stadium Ireland as an unnecessary and wasteful ego-driven project, it is indeed interesting to watch this Minister move ahead with such a dubious mega-project of his own."

While last week's crime statistics showed again that Ireland has one of the lowest crimes rates in Western Europe, McDowell's massive prison expansion plans would make Ireland one of the region's top jailers. Ireland's current rate of incarceration of 85 persons per 100,000 population (a rate consistent with last year's EU average of 88 per 100,000) would jump to 115 per 100,000, moving Ireland from 10th to 4th place in race for the unenviable distinction of Western Europe's top jailer. At an average cost of €85,000 annually to incarcerate someone in an Irish prison, McDowell's proposal would bloat prison budgets by tens of millions of Euro each year, said the IPRT.

"That such a massive and expensive increase in imprisonment can be contemplated when Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Western Europe illustrates the Government's backwards approach to this important issue," said Mr. Lines. "The public is crying out for more hospital beds, yet the Government instead wants to divert scarce resources into the folly of new prison beds. The Government clearly has an interesting perspective on the notion of value for money."

The human rights organisation also rubbished any attempt to justify these plans as part of an effort to improve prison conditions. "We will also not accept the Minister's attempt to disguise his choice to expand prisons behind his obligation to improve prison conditions. This is a false and frankly distasteful attempt to dress up reactionary prison policy in humanitarian clothing. Conditions in many Irish prisons are indeed unacceptable, and antiquated institutions must be closed. Improving prison conditions is completely separate and unrelated to the Minister's drive to lock-up more people in Ireland."

Irish Examiner Opinion Piece: Five questions Michael McDowell must answer

The response to last week's crime reports have again highlighted how political the crime issue has become. While 5.2% of Irish adults were victimised by crime in 2003 (well below the 20% average found in most of Western Europe), 80% of us feel crime to be a "serious" or "very serious problem". For justice ministers - under constant pressure to appear "tough on crime" - the temptation to implement feel-good policy must be immense.

However, poll-friendly proposals based on sound bites rather than sound evidence far too often fail to achieve promised results, and at a high price: unnecessary harm to individuals and communities and waste of public monies.

Take for example Justice Minister Michael McDowell's proposals for "reforming" the prison system. While he has yet to present his plan as a coherent whole, the Minister has given us snapshots of his vision for the future: new super-prisons, privatisation, new technologies for monitoring offenders.

Do these plans offer a recipe for truly effective criminal justice reform, or are they merely populist quick fixes that ultimately collapse under the weight of closer scrutiny?

For Mr McDowell to prove his plans are credible public policy - rather than convenient public relations - he must answer five very simple questions.

1) How will building 1,000 additional prison places make us safer? Rates of serious, indictable offences in most categories are dropping. It's true that Irish prisons are overcrowded, but with whom? Two-thirds of annual prison committals are for non-violent offences against neither the person nor property, and it's suggested that hundreds are needlessly incarcerated because of Government failure to adequately resource community supervision by the Probation and Welfare Service. While Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Western Europe the Minister would have us become the region's 4th largest per capita incarcerator. At an average cost of €85,000 annually to imprison someone, surely bloating our prison population is not good value for money.

2) Why will mandatory minimum sentences reduce crime? Ten years after their introduction in the US, even the conservative Rand Corporation think-tank concluded, "Mandatory minimum sentences are not justifiable on the basis of cost effectiveness at reducing...drug-related crime".

In the US, mandatory minimums are a wretched failure, succeeding only in filling America's prisons with non-violent drug offenders at huge cost to the public purse. For example, the US Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded in 1997 that the federal prisons budget increased by more than 1,350% over ten years following the enactment of mandatory minimum drug sentences. Is this the type of "loosening of the purse strings" we can expect from the Fianna Fail/PD coalition?

3)   Why is mandatory drug testing of prisoners an effective drug prevention strategy? Research in the UK called the practice "counterproductive", concluding that it "appears to be encouraging a shift from 'soft' to 'hard' drugs" and "is costing a lot of money that could be better spent." Is this really the Minister's notion of a sensible drugs policy?

4)   What will electronic tagging of offenders accomplish? International evidence shows it fails to reduce prison numbers, reduce re-offending or save public money. Do we really need to squander public monies on clever gadgets that serve no credible criminal justice purpose?

5)   What is the benefit of privatising the prison escort service? The Department of Justice's own experts concluded it was "not a viable option" and Mr McDowell himself admits, "no detailed research was undertaken into the experience of privatised prisoner transport in other jurisdictions." How then can the Minister credibly insist privatisation will save money or be more efficient?

While the evidence against Mr McDowell's plans is substantial, he has yet to offer anything other than opinion and conjecture to support them. This in itself should raise suspicions. If he cannot or will not provide research-based answers to these reasonable questions, his proposals must be recognised as mere political gimmickry. Since these policies already operate other countries, evidence of their success should be easy to produce if it in fact exists. There is certainly no shortage of evidence showing their (often spectacular) failure.

While Mr McDowell may be able to convince his colleagues at the cabinet table of the righteousness of his plans based solely on the strength of his personality, the Irish public should demand more - much more - before agreeing to them. The public deserves to know why and how these policies - which have failed time and time again in country after country - can be expected to yield any different results here.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Michael McDowell would do well to keep this observation in mind before plunging Ireland headfirst into unworthy policies.

Rick Lines is the Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

© Irish Examiner



The Irish Penal Reform Trust today announced the launch of its new website -

"We are pleased to launch Ireland's most comprehensive internet resource on prisons, prisoners' rights and critical criminal justice," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "This website will play an important role in facilitating informed public debate in Ireland, and reflects the IPRT's commitment to promoting evidenced-based prison and justice policies that reflect human rights and international best practice."

The new website contains an extensive searchable archive of IPRT materials, Government reports, Irish and international media, Parliamentary Questions and Government and Opposition press statements and speeches.

"We hope that this new website will be a useful tool for policy-makers, human rights advocates, students, academics and journalists seeking the most current information on prisons and prisoners' rights in Ireland and internationally," said Mr. Lines.

The IPRT's new website is located at

Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israeli Prisons Begin Hunger Strike

To all Friends and Supporters of Human Rights around the World:

The Committee for the Families of Political Prisoners and Detainees in the West Bank, representing 7,500 political prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, is seeking the support of the international community in its campaign against the gross violations of their rights that the prisoners are enduring and against the appalling conditions under which they are being detained.

Political prisoners in Israeli prisons will be commencing a hunger strike on Sunday, August 15, 2004 to protest their conditions. They complain that the conditions they experience are reminiscent of the former Abu Ghoraib facility in Iraq which gained worldwide notoriety recently for its treatment of detainees.

When informed by the prisoners of their intended hunger strike prison authorities responded with harsher treatment, vowing not to give in to any of the prisonersí demands even if the hunger strikes result in the deaths of prisoners.

Some of the conditions that the prisoners are protesting include:

  • Arbitrary and indiscriminate beating of prisoners in their cells, in prison courtyards and during transportation to and from prisons.
  • Arbitrary and indiscriminate firing of tear gas into prisonerís cells and prison courtyards and intimidation of prisoners by guards entering their cells with guns.
  • Humiliating strip searches of prisoners in full view of other prisoners and guards each time they enter or exit their cells
  • Subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement for excessive periods of time, for months and even years.
  • Arbitrary imposition of financial penalties on prisoners for minor infractions, arbitrary revocation of visitation rights and extended confinement to cells as punishment for minor infractions such as singing or speaking too loudly
  • Confining children with adult prisoners and political prisoners with criminals
  • Withholding or delaying medical treatment and the provision of medication to sick detainees
  • Severely restricting the category of family members entitled to visit prisoners thus denying visitation rights to other close family members
  • Arbitrary denial of travel permits to family members of prisoners living in the West Bank or Gaza so that they cannot travel to prisons to see their relatives
  • Imposing conditions on travel for family members and obstacles that result in travel of a few hours being prolonged to 16 or 17 hours for a 45-minute visit
  • Conducting humiliating strip searches of visiting family members even though they are usually separated from the prisoners by a full glass barrier as well as a wire mesh barrier.
  • Providing such poor visitation facilities that prisoners find it difficult to see or hear their loved ones
  • Maintaining prisoners on near starvation diets that are insufficient to sustain health.
  • Applying rules concerning items that prisoners may receive from their families arbitrarily and inconsistently, on the whim of the guards, with each visit.
  • Withdrawing studying privileges that in the past allowed prisoners to continue their high school or university studies through correspondence course.

The treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israel violates both international and Israeli laws, as well as rules governing the administration of Israeli prisons. The Committee for the Families is planning a series of activities in the West Bank to coincide with the start of the hunger strike on August 15th. A press conference in Ramallah will kick off the campaign. Hunger strike solidarity tents will be set up in the centre of all the cities in the West Bank and in all the Red Cross Centres and will be occupied by the public around the clock for as long as the prisonersí strike lasts. The Palestinian Prime Ministerís office has declared August 18th a National Day for Prisoners for all Palestinians to show solidarity with the prisoners. All government ministers, members of the Palestinian National Council and heads of all political parties will join the public in the Solidarity Tents and fast in support of the prisoners.

Other planned activities are: On Friday, August 20, after Jum'a prayers at mosques processions will march towards the Solidarity Tents. On Saturday, August 21st, Palestinians in various Israeli cities will march, together with other supporters, to the prisons where Palestinian political prisoners are being held and on Sunday, August 22, after church services processions will march to the Solidarity Tents. These processions will be held every weekend during the campaign. On August 23rd children of the prisoners will lead a procession. On August 25th all professionals involved in the Justice system in Palestine will congregate at the Solidarity Tents in their official legal gowns and will lead a procession to the centre of their cities. On August 26th the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi, will lead a mass procession in Ramallah. On August 29th all members of the public are invited to join the open hunger strike and in the evening candlelight processions will be held.

The families of the Palestinian political prisoners plead with you, the members of the international community, to join in solidarity with our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who are being held in Israeli prisons by organizing an International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Prisoners on September 4, 2004. We ask you to demonstrate, march, hold silent vigils or activities to publicize the plight of the political prisoners and bring pressure on the government of Israel to cease these violations of law and to treat Palestinian prisoners as human beings entitled to basic human rights.

We ask you also register your protests by letter, fax, email, or telephone to the officials listed below. Ask them to stop the harsh treatment of Palestinian political prisoners and to accede the demands of the striking prisoners so that the conditions under which they are imprisoned are consistent with international norms of human rights and basic decency.

Also, please register your protest with your own political representatives and governments ministers.

Please send a copy of your protest message to

Messages of support from organizations would also be appreciated by the prisoners and their families. Please send them to the same address with some details of the organization.

For more information visit our temporary website or telephone (972) 2 277 4602 or email

With much appreciation for your valued support,

Mahmoud Ziadi, General Secretariat,
Families of Palestinian Political Prisoners
PO Box 2151, Ramallah, Palestine.

List of Israeli government officials:

Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan St. PO Box 187
Jerusalem 91919, Israel
Telegram: Prime Minister, Jerusalem Israel
Fax: +972 2 6705475

Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz
Ministry of Defense, 37 Kaplan St.
Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972-3-6962757 / -691 7915
email: or

Minister of Justice, Yosef Lapid
Ministry of Justice
29 Salah al-Din St.
Jerusalem 91010, Israel
Telegram: Justice Minister, Jerusalem Israel
Fax: +972 2 6285492

Minister of Interior Security
Tzahi Haneghi
Kiryat Hamemshala, POB 18182
Jerusalem 91181
Tel: 972-2-5309999 Fax: 2-5847872

Addresses of Israeli embassies worldwide

Government of Israel website

British Court Decision Undermines Global Torture Ban, says Human Rights Watch

(London, August 11, 2004) - A ruling by Britain's second-highest court undermines the global ban on torture, Human Rights Watch said today. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the Court of Appeal said that evidence obtained under torture in third countries may be used in special terrorism cases, provided that the British government has "neither procured the torture nor connived at it."

"This is a dramatic rollback in fundamental rights," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "The global ban on torture is absolute. Britain should be a leader in upholding that principle rather than looking for ways around it."  
The court ruled that the British government can use evidence obtained under torture outside the country when deciding to detain indefinitely foreign terrorism suspects, unless Britain was involved in the torture or encouraged it. The same material can also be considered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which hears appeals by these suspects against indefinite detention. Much of the evidence before this commission is heard in closed proceedings to which the detainees and their lawyers of choice have no access. Instead, they are represented by security-cleared lawyers appointed by the government.  
Under the Convention Against Torture, to which Britain and more than 130 countries are party, evidence obtained under torture is inadmissible in "any proceedings" before a court. But the majority in the Court of Appeal said today that because the Torture Convention is not part of British domestic law, the Home Secretary has no obligation to enquire about how information from third countries was obtained when he certifies foreign nationals as suspected international terrorists.  
"The court's decision sets a devastating precedent," said Denber. "Arguing that torture is acceptable provided that the British government is not involved is a shocking abdication of responsibility."  
In his dissenting judgment, Lord Justice Neuberger made clear the consequences of the majority's decision, stating that "by using torture, or even by adopting the fruits of torture, a democratic state is weakening its case against terrorists, by adopting their methods, thereby losing the moral high ground an open democratic society enjoys."  
The ruling came in the Court of Appeal's decision rejecting the appeals of 10 foreign nationals certified as suspected international terrorists under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. The men were appealing against earlier decisions by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to uphold their certifications as suspected international terrorists.  
Nine of the men are subject to indefinite detention under the law without charge or trial, together with three additional suspects, who were not parties to today's appeal. The tenth appellant has left Britain. The Court of Appeal denied the men permission to appeal to the House of Lords, but the men have the right to request such permission directly from the higher court.  
The ruling is the latest in a series of blows to human rights protection in Britain arising from the indefinite detention allowed under Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. In order to enact the law in December 2001, Britain suspended part of its human rights obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Joint Human Rights Committee of the British Parliament has called for indefinite detention under Part 4 to be scrapped "urgently," arguing it has a "corrosive effect on the culture of respect for human rights."  
This October, a specially convened nine-judge panel in the House of Lords will hear an appeal on the lawfulness of the derogation and the compatibility of the legislation with other human rights obligations from which Britain has not derogated.  
In the three years since the September 11 attacks in the United States, governments around the world have adopted counterterrorism measures that violate fundamental human rights. They have adopted laws allowing indefinite detention without judicial review, and restricting or denying altogether access to counsel in terror cases. They are also increasingly reneging on their obligations not to send terror suspects back to countries where they would be at risk for torture, frequently justifying such returns by seeking "diplomatic assurances" from governments with long-standing records on torture that the suspects would not be harmed.  
Read Human Right's Watch's briefing paper analyzing the indefinite-detention regime in the United Kingdom  

© Human Rights Watch

U.S. Prison Abuse Panel Doesn't Go Far Enough, says Human Rights Watch

(Washington D.C., August 24, 2004) - A report by a panel reviewing Pentagon detention operations criticizes top officials, but fails to address government policy that may have led to the mistreatment and torture of detainees, Human Rights Watch said today.The four-member panel, named by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. It faulted Rumsfeld, as well as top military officials, for "errors of omission" in failing to adapt detention operations to changing conditions, and singled out Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, for establishing a "confused command relationship" that contributed to the abuses.  
"The report talks about management failures when it should be talking about policy failures," said Reed Brody, Special Counsel with Human Rights Watch. "The report seems to go out of its way not to find any relationship between Secretary Rumsfeld's approval of interrogation techniques designed to inflict pain and humiliation and the widespread mistreatment and torture of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo."  
The report focuses on the actions of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and the 800th Military Police Brigade, which operated in Abu Ghraib. It fails, however, to examine in detail other detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though most deaths of detainees in U.S. custody and many reported abuses occurred outside Abu Ghraib.  

The report acknowledges that "augmented" interrogations techniques for Guantanamo Bay, which included the use of dogs, stripping detainees naked, and subjecting them to painful stress positions, "migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded" and accepts that these techniques went beyond what was permitted by the Army's traditional interrogation guidelines. It also confirms that following a visit to Iraq by General Geoffrey Miller, General Sanchez approved such techniques, including specifically the use of dogs, to aid interrogations. Yet the panel does not state that any of these techniques were inherently abusive or unlawful and does not hold the officials and general officers who approved them responsible for abuses.  
The report discusses America's legal obligations to treat detainees humanely under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment. But it does not analyze whether any interrogation techniques approved by the Pentagon violated these legal obligations. The panel apparently was unaware of an additional Pentagon policy, outlined in a letter from its General Counsel William Haynes to Senator Patrick Leahy on June 25, 2003, not to engage in any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that would be prohibited by the U.S. Constitution - a policy it applied to all detainees, whether they were considered lawful or "unlawful" combatants.  
The report is heavily critical of the police and intelligence brigade commanders at Abu Ghraib prison, including Brigadier General Janis Karpinski for whom it recommends a reprimand, but states that it found "no evidence that organizations above [those brigades] were directly involved in the incidents at Abu Ghraib."  
"But it was not Janis Karpinski who cast aside the Geneva Conventions," said Brody. "She was not the one who told the president he could commit torture or who approved illegal coercive interrogation tactics such as the use of guard dogs, stress positions and forced nudity."  
Human Rights Watch also noted that the Schlesinger panel did not have the scope to get to the bottom of the widespread abuses committed at U.S. detention facilities. The report acknowledges that the "CIA's detention and interrogation practices contributed to a loss of accountability at Abu Ghraib," but fails to examine the issue further because investigating the CIA was not within its mandate. The report raises the issue of "unregistered detainees" held by the CIA, but states that the panel "did not have sufficient access to CIA information to make any determinations." It mentions, but fails to examine, the role of legal memos drafted at the Justice and Defense Departments justifying the use of torture. The panel based its findings almost entirely on information provided by internal Pentagon investigations. It did not conduct or take into account independent investigations of abuse which might differ from the findings of the military.  
Human Rights Watch said that only an independent 9/11-style commission would be able to shed full light on U.S. treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Such a commission would hold hearings, have full subpoena power, and be empowered to recommend the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal offenses. The commission would examine, among other things, the link between the administration policy discussions and memos and actual practices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.  
"What is needed is real accountability for these crimes," said Brody. 

 © Human Rights Watch

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