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