A snapshot of prison life

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) accommodates more than 3,500 prisoners across seven prisons. The IPS compiles data on a daily basis, which when looked at altogether paints a comprehensive picture of life in Ireland’s prisons.

Access to a private toilet at all times is considered a basic right under best practice standards, but in Ireland not everyone has access to one due to upgrades needed in prisons and because of over-crowding.

The following chart shows the number of people who don’t have access to a private toilet at all times. The problem is worst in Cloverhill, a remand prison in Clondalkin where more than 50% of inmates must use a toilet in front of others.

In addition, some 312 prisoners were still ‘slopping out’ their cells in Portlaoise, Limerick and Cork prisons. Compensation claims are expected to be lodged by former prisoners who were subject to this practice, after similar cases in Scotland were brought to a successful conclusion for the claimants.

Access to a private toilet 24 hours a day

Work is underway to eliminate, where possible, the need for prisoners to share cells. Due to increasing capacity numbers just under a third of prisoners are now in shared cells.

In a recent parliamentary question on the subject of shared cells Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald pointed out that not everyone in the system wishes to be housed in a single cell.

“It should be borne in mind that in certain cases prisoners are housed together for reasons other than lack of capacity. Family members and friends often elect or are assigned a shared cell,” she said in response to a question tabled by Labour TD Ciarán Lynch.

“Shared cell accommodation can be very beneficial from a management point of view particularly for those who are vulnerable and at risk of self-harm. There will always be a need for certain prisoners to be accommodated together.”

Cell sizes
Type of cell accommodation

Under new rules introduced by former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in 2012, prisoners have the ability to lodge complaints against prison authorities. The most serious of these are investigated by an independent body. In Dublin prisons last year 631 complaints were lodged by prisoners.

Staff in Cloverhill Prison in Dublin had the highest number of complaints made against them by prisoners, with 257 grievances filed.

Some 44 ‘category A’ complaints, which deal with the most serious allegations, were lodged by Cloverhill prisoners last year.

However the IPS said that 24 of these complaints related to one incident and were not upheld after investigation.

Prisoner complaints are divided into six categories, the most serious of which deals with alleged “assault or use of excessive force” as well as “ill treatment, racial abuse and discrimination”.

This category also covers “intimidation and threats” and complaints of this nature are dealt with outside of the prison services due to the gravity of the allegations.

Mountjoy and Wheatfield prisons in the capital were the second and third most likely place for serious complaints to be lodged. Mountjoy prisoners submitted 19 complaints of this type, while in Wheatfield there was 18.

Meanwhile another 109 complaints were lodged in Irish prisons for other serious issues including “verbal abuse of prisoners by staff” or “inappropriate searches”.

Again, Cloverhill was subject to the most complaints under this heading, with 41 lodged.

The Clondalkin prison has a higher turnover than most other Irish prisons which could account for its high level of complaints, a spokesman for the IPS said.

The most common complaints among the Irish prisoner population however, were for basic service level issues.

They lodged 490 complaints in Dublin prisons under this category in 2014, with the Midlands topping the list at 254 complaints.

These cover issues such as “complaints about visits, phone calls, reception issues, missing clothes, not getting post on time, not getting appropriate exercise” according to official guidelines.

Number of complaints per prison

“The fact that prisoners are submitting complaints through the system is evidence that prisoners have a confidence in the system and that any issues they raise will be listened to and addressed by prison management,” a spokesman for the IPS said.

By Laura Larkin and Niamh Geoghegan

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