The Blanket

Prisons

Liam O Ruairc • 16/10/2002

The most recent edition of the Sunday Tribune (13 October 2002) carried two articles on the situation in Irish prisons. The first concerned a report to be published next month by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture that will show that the treatment of mentally ill prisoners in the 26 counties violates the European Convention of Human Rights. The report strongly criticises the way prisoners with mental health disorders are treated in the Irish system, in particular how prisoners are being stripped and put in prison padded cells. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture slammed the authorities for not having made progress since previous visits in 1993 and 1998.

On the same page, another article reported that a key meeting on suicides in Irish prisons had been cancelled due to lack of funds. This shows where the prisoners' well being lies in the list of the authorities' priorities. Some people may not feel concerned about the situation in the prisons: after all those incarcerated individuals are not angels, they are convicted criminals. But one can measure the degree of humanity of a country on how it treats its most disadvantaged citizens, and prisoners would be amongst those. The inhumane and degrading conditions in which mentally ill prisoners have to live says everything about the 26 counties authorities. However, generally speaking, some prisoners happen to have a better treatment than others. Think of Lord Archer: last week English newspapers carried full coverage of the publication of his prison diaries. However, it is very doubtful that Lord Archer experienced the unpleasant aspects of incarceration. Statistics released by the Howard League for Penal Reform showed that on 20 September 2002, the prison population stood at 71 894, that is 7 747 above the Certified Normal Accommodation figure. Of those, 52 500 prisoners were being held in overcrowded conditions. The worst prison is Preston, which is 186% overcrowded. That's not the sort of conditions Lord Archer had to live in. If his Lordship was able to access some privileges, there are no reasons why other prisoners should not have them as well.

Republicans are familiar with the prison system, as thousands of activists were sentenced to jail. It is necessary for Republicans to create a programme of action that would not only defend the rights of political prisoners, but those of the so-called "ordinary decent crimimals" as well.

The following demands could be the starting point of a programme of action to fight the degrading prison system.

  • There must be workers' supervision of prisons.
  • Prisoners must be allowed the maximum opportunity to develop themselves as human beings. People should only be imprisoned within a short distance of their own locality - if nor, families must be given full cost of travel for visits.
  • Prison life must be made as near normal as possible. The aim of prison should be rehabilitation, not punishment. Within prisons there should be a wide range of cultural facilities. Medical treatment must be via the general health service. There must be provision for daily visiting hours and weekly 24-hour conjugal visits.
  • Worthwhile prison work. must be made available. It must be paid at full trade union rates and limited to seven hours a day.
  • Cells must be self-contained and for one person alone.
  • Prisoners must be allowed access to books, newspapers and periodicals of their choice. Incoming and outgoing letters can only be checked for contraband - they must not be read nor censored.
  • Prisoners should have the right to vote in parliamentary and other such elections and to stand for election.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
 
Index: Current Articles

20 October 2002

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Dancing on the Graves of Ten Men Dead
Anthony McIntyre

 

The Wily Ways of a Boy From Ballymurphy

Barry White

 

SF's Ruse Coloured Glasses
Brian Mór

 

Historic Shirts of the World
Brian Mór

 

Prisons
Liam O Ruairc

 

From Belfast To Genoa - Now Florence
Davy Carlin

 

An Open Letter to the Democratic National Committee
Jeanie Bauer

 

The Letters Page has been updated.

 

17 October 2002

 

Statement from Republican Prisoners, Maghaberry

 

Running on Empty
Anthony McIntyre

 

The Political Treachery at the Heart of the IRA

Toby Harnden

 

Adams' Ashes
Brian Mór

 

The Boys of the New Brigade
Brian Mór

 

The Original 1930's Classic Blue Shirt
Brian Mór

 

Cherishing the Children of the Nation Equally
Liam O Ruairc

 

Republicanism and the Crisis Within the Peace Process
Davy Carlin

 

 

 

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