Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Penal Reform: Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
I thank members for their presence and Senator Colette Kelleher for facilitating the commencement of today's business. Apologies have been received from Deputy Alan Farrell and Senators Martin Conway and Lorraine Clifford-Lee.
The first item of business is a discussion on penal reform with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice.
The joint committee has identified penal policy and penal reform as one of its priority issues in its 2017 work programme. The purpose of this part of the meeting is to have a discussion on this issue.
I welcome Mr. Eoin Carroll of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. We are joined by Mr. Kevin Hargaden in the Visitors Gallery. On behalf of the committee I thank Mr. Carroll for his attendance here today to discuss this important issue. I advise the witness that the format of the meeting is that he will be invited to make a brief opening statement and this will be followed by a question and answer opportunities for members.
I must caution the witness about privilege and I draw his attention to the fact that he is protected by protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence he is to give to the committee. However, if he is directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, he is entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of his evidence. He is directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, he should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded that under the salient rulings of the Chairman, members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I now invite Mr. Carroll to make his opening statement.
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
I thank the Chairman and the Deputies. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the committee today and I am heartened that it has identified penal reform as a priority for 2017. Today I would like to focus on the need to reduce the amount of people in prison and to improve prison conditions; with an emphasis on young adults. As part of my submission to the Committee I included our report Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults – A New Approach to the Unique Needs of Young Adults (aged 18–24) in Prison. We all have a tendency, a desire even, to produce more and more reports and we are also at fault in this regard. It shows action and outputs. We do not, however, sufficiently measure the outcomes we have achieved from these. Ways to reduce the amount of people in prison are already known. Two reports produced by this Committee - which I have included in my submission- provide blueprints for radical penal reform. These reports are the report of the Sub-Committee on Crime and Punishment of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights entitled Alternatives to Fines and the Uses of Prison from March 2000 and the report by Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality's entitled Report on Penal Reform from March 2013. These were cross party, non-partisan publications. There were no minority reports, so everyone was in agreement. Why is pressure not put on the Minister to implement all the recommendations of these reports?
In March 2000 the report Alternatives to Fines and the Uses of Prison determined that the balance of resources is skewed heavily towards prison and that punishment in the community should be the norm. In 2000, when the report was written, we had 2,948 people in prison. Today we have 3,722 people in prison. Given the skewed resources, we fail to address some of the underlying reasons why people commit crime, such as poverty, deprivation, social exclusion, educational failure, unemployment, homelessness, mental health and drug addiction. Some 13 years later the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality came up with the Report on Penal Reform, March 2013, which was more explicit, and recommended a decarceration strategy and called for the prison population to be reduced by one third. This target would mean around 2,900 people would be in prison by 2022, which will be some achievement, being a further reduction of 800 on today’s figures. If we look at the aspirations in the 2000 report, however, this would still be too high. Worryingly, the current figures suggest that progress in reducing prison numbers may have stalled. The number of people in prison last week was 3,784. This is higher than the average daily prison population in 2015. The 2000 report highlighted that the size of the prison estate and by extension the number of people we have in prison, is to a large extent a political calculation that "despite popular belief to the contrary, imprisonment rates have a very small impact on crime rates and can be lowered significantly without exposing the public to serious risk". I can refer the committee to several reports that attempt to forecast prison numbers in Ireland, but all these reports fail to realise that it is ultimately a political decision and can be as large as those numbers as we have seen in the US, or numbers as small as those seen in Scandinavian countries.
I will now turn to the issue of women in prisons. While the numbers of people in prison on any given day has reduced significant in recent years, the numbers of people being sent to prison continues to increase. This is particularly so for women. The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice is concerned about the dramatic increase in the daily population of women in prison and numbers of women being sent to prison annually. Proposed solutions to reducing the number of women in prison – by providing a step-down unit – reflects the failed institutionalised approaches of the past. Large hostel style accommodation post-release or part of a step-down programme will not dramatically break the cycle of homelessness or poverty. The approach taken within the housing organisations such as the Housing First approach is required.
We would have a number of recommendations about prison numbers. A renewed commitment to the recommendations of the two Justice Committee Reports should be placed on record. A decision should be made - maybe not today - around what number of prison places we should have in Ireland and ultimately a cap placed on prison numbers. We recommend a Housing First approach as an alternative to the step-down facility for women exiting prison.
With regard to conditions the 2000 committee report highlighted that many prisoners are held in conditions which are unnecessarily secure. It said that a “one size fits all philosophy is not appropriate. There is a need for different mixes of restriction and supervision [and that for the future] prisons constructed should be flexible, arranged around self-contained units. Regimes should be programme-driven and open to the possibilities of individual change". This was also echoed in the 2013 report which called for a greater use of open prisons.
Unfortunately, for the most part our prison estate is a one-size model. Since 2000 we have continued to increase prison sizes and we still rely on closed prisons, which still dominate, with limited access to self-management. New builds since 2000 including the Midlands Prison and Cork Prison - and also in Castlerea Prison - did not look to innovate in how we detain people. The Midlands Prison accommodates 870 people which, along with Cork Prison, mimics prison design from the 19th century. To put this in context, prisons with a maximum capacity for 300 persons are seen as best practice. The 1985 Whitaker report recommended 100 as maximum capacity. Prisons seen as progressive such as Shanganagh Castle and Fort Mitchel were closed in the early 2000s.
How people experience prison conditions is heavily influenced by how much time a person spends in their room or cell. Lock-up times have not changed in over 30 years despite constant recommendations for change. The overwhelming majority of people are in closed prisons where the regime is 16 to 17 hours per day in the cell. The 1985 Whitaker report recommended a minimum of 12 hours out-of-cell time.
The principle of normalisation has been spoken about for decades, including within Irish Prison Service documentation, in order to make prison life more like that of life in the community. The current daily routine could not, in any way, be considered normal. Our recommendations around prison conditions and sizes are to reduce prison sizes and provide accommodation based on security need, avoiding the one-size fits all model, and at least 12 hours out-of-cell time with meaningful activity.
The issue of young adults in prisons is of particular interest to the centre. We have produced a report that was distributed to the members. I also have hard copies with me today. Imprisonment is inherently a destructive experience for everyone, but particularly for young people, no matter how good the facilities within the prison. A young person’s growth and development is linked to decision-making; young people grow by learning from both the positive and negative decisions they make. In prison, however, a person is not allowed to make any decisions, except the decision to keep your head down and cause no trouble. Prison is an environment which strips people of their responsibilities, stunts opportunities for development, makes them feel unsafe and restricts their opportunities for integration into adult society.
As highlighted within our report, Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults, emotionally and psychologically they are more like adolescents than adults. The 18–24 age group is a period of what is called extended adolescence. They are more likely to be impulsive and less able to control aggression and risk-taking than adults. Their impulsiveness and reduced ability to control aggression makes them seem unco-operative and therefore more liable to punishment within the prison system. The prison system treats them as if they were fully mature adults when in fact we should be treating them as a distinct group and more like children.
Contained within our report are ten recommendations to transform prison for young adults. I will touch upon a few of these. We recommend that young adults in prison be recognised as a distinct group by making them the responsibility of the Irish youth justice system. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should become a champion for young adults in prison. Currently, young adults are recognised within the Department of Children and Youth Affairs strategy, Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, as being a distinct group separate from the adult population. However, there is a demarcation when it comes to young adults in detention who are ignored in this document. This needs to change.
We also recommend ending the use of extended lock-up, also referred to as the restricted regime, which in many cases is a form of solitary confinement or solitary confinement itself. We recommend the abolition of the basic regime standard for all young adults and that all young adults should be placed on the enhanced accommodation standard on entry to prison.
It would appear that there is no mitigation for the characteristic behaviours of young adults, some of which I have described, and they are over-represented in solitary confinement and on restricted regime, which we detail in our report. We welcome Deputy Clare Daly's draft legislation on solitary confinement and would recommend that legislation prohibit the use of solitary confinement for young adults.
The infographic in our report highlights the fact that young adults are more likely to be on basic level than the general adult population. Basic level means less access to family visits and telephone calls, single cells and less out of cell time, all contrary to how we should respond to the needs of young adults. We also highlight the need to reduce significantly the number of young adults imprisoned and provide separate, young adult detention facilities with specially trained staff.
Politically, if we wished to be a European leader in having a low young adult prison population, this would require a 50% reduction in prison places for this group. Much of this could be achieved through, perhaps, an expansion of the Garda youth diversion programme, which today deals with older children, 16 and 17 year olds, than those it dealt with when it was originally formed. It would also, in effect, end the use of prison for young women, which we detail within our report.
Dedicated facilities, similar to those found in other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland - and I have visited Hydebank Wood College - should now be provided. Historically, we provided specific facilities for young adults with mixed results. St. Patrick's Institution was condemned as far back as the Whitaker committee but Shanganagh Castle and Fort Mitchel were both seen as having a positive impact on the lives of young adults. Any future facility should be campus style with varying levels of security and should be as open as possible to provide maximum freedom. It must be emphasised that young adults are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment. The daily routine should provide meaningful access to education, work and training beyond equivalence to that available in the community. The last point is an important one. Third level institutions and further education colleges should be paired with each young adult detention centre. Young adults should spend a minimum of 14 hours unlocked from their rooms. Accommodation should be provided in houses with single room occupancy, communal dining and access to food preparation areas.
I thank Mr. Carroll for coming here. I commend the Jesuit community on the work it does in the area of justice and equality. Whether in respect of Travellers, the homeless or prisoners, the Jesuit community is at the forefront in trying to challenge stereotypes and provide alternative thinking about these vulnerable groups.
Mr. Carroll began by saying sometimes we produce too many reports, which is a legitimate criticism of politicians. This committee, however, does not have much power and all it can do is produce a report and hope somebody will adopt our report.
Why does Mr. Carroll believe the number of women going to prison is increasing?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
Organisations like ours, which are involved with penal reform and conditions of imprisonment, are not best placed to answer questions as to why. That comes down to the courts and sentencing. There is a unique situation in Ireland where the prison authorities have huge powers in terms of back door options. That was detailed in the last committee report. There is the opportunity, after someone has spent a short time in custodial detention because the courts have deemed that appropriate, to consider serving a sentence in the community. It needs to be examined. Unlike the UK, we do not have the sophisticated data to examine why there are increases. There are increasing numbers and we do not yet know why. We can see a reduction in the number of men being imprisoned.
Mr. Carroll also said that lock-up times should change and a person should be out of the cell for 12 hours every day. In an ideal world, what would he like to see prisoners doing for those 12 hours?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
The Whitaker report was published in 1985 but the lock-up times today are the same as they were then. Most would argue that society progresses and we have a greater understanding of what is and is not acceptable. The Whitaker report and several other reports, including Oireachtas reports, and the Irish Prison Service agree with the principle of normalisation. To me that means a person gets up in the morning, gets dressed, has breakfast, prepares for the day and go to work, training or education. Most of us work a seven hour day. Therefore a prison should model society.
I like the idea of making those young adults who are within the prison system a distinct group and linking the institutions with third level institutions. Have any efforts been made in respect of that?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
Hydebank Wood College in Northern Ireland has completely transformed itself. Three or four years ago it was considered a very dangerous institution and there was talk of closing it. While it is not perfect now, it has linked with Belfast Metropolitan, a further education college, and it is trying to bridge that education from the prison environment to the community. That has always been a difficult issue. The prison service is proud to say that it has several students studying for the junior and leaving certificates and further education but there is a transition point. It would be a real plus if we could link with our colleges of further education.
Some criticisms of a dedicated facility for young adults are that it would not work and that young adults behave better when they are with older adults. I posed these questions to the former director general of the prison service in Northern Ireland and she dismissed their legitimacy as reasons for detaining the young adult population with the older adult population. I recommend that the committee visit Hydebank Wood College in the North, and possibly a dedicated facility for young adults in Germany, to which we also refer.
The Deputy referred to women. An examination of current policy towards women is needed. I make specific reference to a proposed step-down facility for women, on which the Irish Prison Service went to tender in October. We already have two quasi facilities on the former St. Laurence site, one relatively large institution run by an NGO and another smaller institution run by another NGO. The question is whether they could be better used. Ultimately, we want to keep down the number of people we put in any form of institutional setting. If one looks at what Focus Ireland and the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust are looking at, one can see that it is something like the Housing First model. I think the outcomes the Irish Prison Service want from a step-down unit can be better achieved through a Housing First model. Under this model, the person is placed in their own home and provided with individualised supports based on their needs.
I echo Deputy O'Callaghan's points about the role played by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. The reports have been very useful. The report last year on young people was excellent. I have tried to follow up on some of the recommendations in that report through parliamentary questions. What Mr. Carroll probably highlighted today is the glaring contradiction between what is being said in many of the reports that are being produced, even by Oireachtas committees, and the reality on the ground. The language is changing, the dialogue is more informed and we talk more about reform but even though there has been enlightened thinking at the top, there is a contradiction on the ground in the prisons. Is that related to the idea of training and meaningful activity and the point about beyond equivalence? The centre's most recent report made the point strongly that because of the disadvantage experienced by young people in particular, the types of facilities in prison do not need to be the same level as those in the community, they need to be beyond that to compensate and bring people up to speed. Perhaps we are looking at things the wrong way around. Security is always the starting point of prison management. It is all done against the backdrop of lower numbers, which has probably been an issue, and training and meaningful activity element is second. If we are to get to grips with this, we need to start with meaningful activity first and stand that on its head. That is one area I would like more detail on.
The question of women in prison is interesting. I think one other contributor pointed out that the number of women in prison, albeit proportionately smaller, is increasing more rapidly. Various reports such as the Corston report show the dislocating impact of putting women in prison. They show that if a woman is imprisoned, her children face the danger of homelessness. In terms of alternative models and houses in the community, is there anything in that and is there anything we could do to push them as an alternative?
My other point relates to the radical suggestion that we pick a number and cap it at that. I like that idea because unless there is something there, the Judiciary will keep sentencing people beyond the capacity that is there. Was this type of approach used in other jurisdictions that, in essence, almost halved the prison population such as the Scandinavian countries? Is there a precedent somewhere?
We would have liked the Bill I brought forward to be more radical but the committee wanted to extend it to the 19 hours. The Minister has even objected to that and has said that the committee is going beyond its remit. Again, is there any international experience on that?
I do not know whether the centre has the wherewithal to address mental health and the crisis involving acutely psychotic prisoners but these issues are reaching a critical point not just for inmates but for staff. The Central Mental Hospital says some people are too high-risk so it will not take them. However, these people are not getting treatment in prison. There is a waiting list of over acutely psychotic 20 people who are queuing for weeks and months and who need to be managed by the prison service. I do not know if the centre has looked at any precedents or models in other areas that might address that.
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
I probably should have taken notes from the outset. The Deputy should point out if I have missed something. I could not agree more with the points the Deputy made regarding mental health. We were involved with the group in 2007 and tried to essentially reform the accommodation in the Central Mental Hospital. We were standing behind a group of family members who did not want the Central Mental Hospital to be co-located on a prison site. Other than that, it is not something we have looked into.
In respect of prison numbers, it is a leap to say that we will just have a cap. A way to get around it that sounds a bit more sane is for each institution to have a fixed number that would indicate when it was full. In fairness, the now deceased Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, tried to introduce institutional numbers. Giving institutions numbers is certainly the starting point. The Inspector of Prisons has figures for each of the prisons, as does the Irish Prison Service. The Irish Prison Service is working towards the Inspector of Prisons' capped numbers. Worryingly, an article in the Irish Examinerthis week referred to somebody having to sleep on a mattress. If there was a rule that the prison had to shut its doors when it was full, alternatives would have to be provided but such an arrangement does not currently exist.
In respect of the provision of community facilities for women either as an alternative to prison or post release, our reports makes reference to two projects in the US. We forget that while nearly two million people are in prison in the US on any given day, I think it is about 700 per 100,000 of the population, one sees glimpses of innovation in terms of justice initiatives. There are projects out there.
I might have missed the Deputy's initial point about out of cell time. In respect of the regime that operates in the young adult facility in Germany, inmates spend approximately 14 hours out of cell. All of us here try to spend eight hours in bed but the figure might be seven. We may think we would like to spend 12 hours in our bedroom the odd time. Currently, people in prison spend 16 or 17 hours in their cells. Solitary confinement is a serious issue. There are interpretation issues around solitary confinement but it has been clearly stated that it does not matter if somebody is placed in solitary confinement if it is a request or punishment. It is still considered solitary confinement and is inappropriate if it is used consecutively for longer than 15 days. They are minimum standards so we should not be working towards them. We should be working towards nobody being in solitary confinement. We would argue that the characteristics of young adult mean that solitary confinement should not be allowed. The UN minimum standards for juveniles say that solitary confinement should not be used for juveniles. Of course, it allows the State to determine what a juvenile is and in Ireland, a juvenile is someone aged up to 18.
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
When I was in secondary school, and we are trying to second guess when many of the members were in secondary school, for the most part, a person did not get access to supplementary educational support. They did not have the learning support staff, learning assistants or special needs assistants that now exist.
Our understanding now is that children require this. What we are saying is that young people, or all people, in detention have previously been failed by the education system. Therefore, based on their educational needs, they have a right to education and it is legitimate to say there should be educational provision beyond equivalence. If one is a pragmatist, this makes sense. If we can attempt to address within the prison system the educational, work and training needs of those with literacy and numeracy issues and provide them with an opportunity when they leave prison, does it not make sense to do so?
I thank Mr. Carroll for his presentation. Like others, I recognise the work his organisation does. I have two or three questions to ask him.
One point we have heard made on penal reform by many delegates concerns the failure of politics, politicians and political parties at many levels. Over time we have all collectively embraced populism on penal reform, which involves a false dichotomy. In the 1980s, I believe, there were reduced crime rates but prisoner numbers doubled. Penal policy in Ireland has been created and formulated by accident rather than by design. In many ways that is still the case, with changing budgets. We have seen a failure among all politicians and parties in truly embracing the common ground on penal reform. The problem is that there have been a number of reports from justice committees that have not been prioritised by the Department of Justice and Equality in the context of its budget and agenda. That leads to my first question. Bearing in mind Mr. Carroll's input into the policy process, what significant initiative on penal reform in the past ten years has been a follow-through on reports that have been produced?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
We did not end up with Thornton Hall. That was the result of the Thornton Hall review group. To be honest, I do not believe we needed a review group to tell us we did not need it. Probably the most pragmatic reason for not developing it was that we could not afford it. Furthermore, it would have led to an increase in the prisoner population of approximately 1,200. The decision was positive. Perhaps I was overly harsh on the report that the committee produced in 2013 because, in effect, many of the recommendations have come through. We now have the community return programme and the community support programme. The community return programme allows somebody to serve the remainder of his or her sentence within the community once he or she has served 50% of it within prison. That was recommended in the report.
There were other aspects of note in the report, including the making of a commitment to reduce the prison population. The director general of the Irish Prison Service has stated this is his objective. At this point, because numbers have levelled of and with an increase last year, I am curious to see how we will continue to reduce prisoner numbers. The 2013 report mentioned increasing remission by up to one third. It is already achievable and no legislation needs to be brought forward. Perhaps a little policy might be required just to clarify what somebody in prison needs to do to achieve it.
The report made recommendations on stopping the use of imprisonment for sentences of less than six months. Certainly, the number in prison on any given day serving a sentence of less than six months has gone down. With the young adult population, however, an analysis of those serving sentences of less than two years shows a ratio of 2:1. I am nervous about mentioning statistics that I do not have in front of me, but they are included in the report. Certainly, a higher proportion of young adults are serving sentences of two years by comparison with older adults. It begs the question as to whether young adults are receiving sentences for offences for which an older adult might not receive the same sentence.
Mr. Carroll mentioned trying to move away from the one-size-fits-all philosophy. He is absolutely correct.
I wish to raise two issues, the drugs court, which was introduced on a pilot basis in Dublin, and also therapeutic communities within prisons. Does Mr. Carroll wish to elaborate on them?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
I was fortunate enough to visit Grendon Prison in the United Kingdom. It is a therapeutic community prison. I went there with representatives of the Prison Officers Association. We were meant to have somebody in attendance from the Irish Prison Service, but as there was an industrial dispute taking place between it and the Prison Officers Association, unfortunately a representative did not travel. Grendon Prison is certainly a good model. I do not know whether any member has had the opportunity to visit Coolmine.
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
Grendon Prison operates according to a very similar model. It has a very specific approach that would appeal to a certain type of prisoner. It may appeal to a prisoner who has tried something before that has not worked. The Grendon Prison and Coolmine models could not be rolled out across the entire prison estate. The Irish Prison Service had indicated that it was seeking to establish a therapeutic community within the prison system. It made reference to Coolmine as part of that process, but that proposal has disappeared. We have not heard about it.
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
The model works. More than likely, it would have to be used in a small facility. Staff in Grendon Prison told us that the success of the facility was related to it not being co-located with the prison. In Ireland it has been suggested we have the facility as an annex, but the culture of the larger prison would wipe out that of the therapeutic community.
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
Since prison sizes are so large, a facility would have to be located in an annex next to one of our current prisons or purpose built. If one examines the Mountjoy Prison site, one might say the Training Unit could have been turned into a therapeutic community. We found out in recent weeks that it was to be redeveloped for use by older prisoners.
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
Wheatfield Prison was meant to be a work and training prison. Within the context of the prison system, it was innovative. It wanted small units in which prisoners could self-manage. There were units divided in eight or ten. Older prisoners are a real issue. I do not want to say what is being done is wrong because what the Irish Prison Service is doing for older prisoners is positive. Having said that, there may now be an even bigger gap. I am not too sure whether we should be regarding some prisons as work and training prisons. If so, what are all the other prisons?
When I look back at reports, including the report of 2000 which included recommendations about new prisons, I note that we must undertake what was described as a security audit. This means that we need to determine, based on the current prisoner population, the level of security needed for that group. Leaving aside where they are now, what security levels do we need? Mr. Kevin Warner and others have constantly been saying we need open prisons. Bizarrely, because the numbers have dropped in the prison system, it now looks as if we have more prisoners in open prisons. Proportionately, we do. The figure is approximately 5% to 7%. In Scandinavian countries is about 30%.
Any future infrastructural development within the prison service should involve the use of more innovative, community-based, semi-open facilities.
Cork Prison was a missed opportunity because it defaulted back to an old model of prison architecture.
I thank Mr. Carroll for his presentation and for all the good work his organisation is doing in this area. These seems to be a broad consensus that prison does not work and that we do not do things as well as we should or make the changes that we should. Has that more to do with ideology or with cost? Many of the initiatives that I would like to see in prisons would probably cost a few bob more to do them properly, particularly measures that would help prisoners to develop properly and to create the facilities that are required to support them when they leave prison rather than just abandoning them. Does Mr. Carroll think the cost factor is stronger than the ideology, which has not gone away and which may be summarised in the words, "They misbehaved so to hell with them"? The punishment element has also not totally disappeared.
He mentioned that the fact that both Cork Prison and the Midlands Prison mimicked prison designs from the 19th century. Was there much dialogue and consultation about how those prisons should be designed? Was much input sought from progressive groups that might have had something more interesting offer? It is scary that they mimic 19th century designs given significant money was spent building them and they were not done right. What approach was taken? Who made the decisions that left us with new prisons that were outdated before they were finished?
Mr. Carroll made a good, interesting point about fixed numbers. I recall when Deputy Daly and I were arrested in respect of the Shannon incident, we were taken to Limerick Prison but the prison officials would not take us because they said the prison was full. I am not sure whether it was because it was genuinely full or whether they did not want us but we did not get in anyway. My understanding is there are two prisoners to a cell in Cork Prison which is crazy given it is the most recent prison to be built. Would Mr. Carroll recommend that cell numbers be reduced to one? Does he have a particular number in mind in the context of the fixed number he mentioned?
There is no doubt that some people are sent to prison for ridiculous reasons. Should all the judges be sent back to school and given a little education in these matters? If they are still sending people, especially women, to prison for theft in supermarkets, we have a problem. Does Mr. Carroll think we should have a chat with the judges?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
On the ideology question, I am not a prison abolitionist because, unfortunately, we have not reached a situation where we can respond in a better way. I would like to think that in the future we should be able to respond in a more therapeutic way. However, prison is a damaging experience for people and the numbers being sent to prison need to be limited. Ideologically, whether one is on the left or the right, having smaller prisons works. If we can keep reducing prisoner numbers, it will cost less. If more open prisons can be provided, it will cost considerably less. The State and institutions have had serious failures in the past trying to assess whether somebody is bad or not. I am a believer in the principle of just desserts which is enshrined in our legislation. It is primarily used as a mitigating concept whereby somebody receives a punishment that is just sufficient or just deserving. It is a principle of proportionality.
With regard to picking a number, if I work off the report the committee's predecessor produced in 2013, it would be approximately 2,900. If I use the report of former Deputy, Jim Higgins, it would be between 2,500 and 2,700. When we want to move from the extreme right or the extreme left to the middle - it happens with everything - my statement seems more dramatic now than when if it was said in 2000 but I am recommending nothing different from what was being recommended then. It seems like I am suggesting something dramatic. This is the safest way to pick a number. For example, the management of offenders policy document in 1995 sought to increase prison cell numbers to eliminate overcrowding but it, ultimately, led to an increase in the prison population. That is why a fixed institution number would overcome that.
With regard to prison architecture, our organisation put in a request to see a plan for Cork Prison and we were refused. I know someone who put in a request for the plan to assess the size of facilities for work and training and education. That person had to go through freedom of information legislation to obtain the data. My understanding is that Cork Prison has a smaller educational facility than the previous prison.
We have advocated for the principle of one person, one cell. I spoke to the POA representatives before attending the meeting and they say it is now part of their campaign. The director general and the Prison Service have, in fairness, said that is their aspiration. They have also said that just because Cork Prison has two-person cells that does not mean they will be used as such. However, the present circumstances have answered that question.
I would be nervous about making comments about the Judiciary. My background is in social science and I am not a legal person. However, we need to find out why judges are sending people to prison for longer and why more people are being sent to prison. As Deputy Chambers said, there is no correlation between crime rates and prison numbers. As soon as we can get our heads around that, we can start to reduce prison numbers and tinker with sentencing practices. The IPRT hopes for the inclusion of text in legislation along the lines of the phase,"Prison as a measure of last resort". Judges have to justify custodial sentences now but the more that text can become part of the train of thought of our Judiciary, the better.
On costs, all the recommendations should reduce the amount being spent on prison.
For example, if we were to decide to send 800 fewer people to prison, we could seek to shrink prisons and bring them down to a size below the 300 mark, which would be seen as an international maximum or minimum figure. The Whitaker report was also seeking to create smaller communities of no more than 100 prisoners.
Ireland has been innovative with prisons, an approach largely driven by the Office of Public Works in the building of Wheatfield Prison and, more recently, the Dóchas Centre. There has been innovation, but there has also been a default back to earlier prison models in the form of Cork Prison and also the extension at Wheatfield Prison.
I thank Mr. Carroll for the great work his organisation does. It works in many areas. As Mr. Carroll was speaking, I tried to get an understanding of his experience with adolescents. If one has an adolescent who is starting to play up and get into trouble, in his experience, what would be the proper intervention services to provide or means of preventing that young person from going down that route? One can almost see it happen sometimes, particularly if there are mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or addiction and there are so many reasons for it. He or she might come from a dysfunctional background. If there was a proper intervention service, does Mr. Carroll think that would prevent him or her from entering that cycle of being in and out of St. Patrick's Institution or prison?
Why does Mr. Carroll think the Training Unit in Mountjoy Prison did not work? What stopped it? Was it the culture of the Irish Prison Service? I imagine it has a very strong culture and that it might be the old model Mr. Carroll outlined. Is it hard to change that old model? How could we change it? Does he think it would be a good idea to get involved with the prison officers training unit, for example, and talk to prison officers about a newer, more therapeutic and compassionate model? Often people who are in and out of prison feel bad about themselves subconsciously; therefore, if somebody is constantly reminding them that they are bad, undoubtedly they will continue to be in and out of prison. It is just familiar to them.
Mr. Carroll mentioned Hydebank Wood Prison in the North and a prison in England. What was its name?
Is there a huge difference between the three institutions of Hydebank Wood Prison, Grendon Prison and St. Patrick's Institution? Would it be a good idea to take one of these models for use in this country? Mr. Carroll has spoken a little about this. If we were to choose one of these models, which one would be the best in his experience?
The main element for me is always addiction and the role it plays. In percentage terms, how many young people, particularly adolescents, go down that destructive route to addiction? Is it a high percentage or is it related more to mental health issues? What are his ideas in that regard?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
On the cycle and earlier intervention for children, to be positive about it, there is something known as the age crime curve. Most people stop committing misdemeanours by the time they reach their late 20s. As a society, we wish to try to disrupt negative, inappropriate or bad behaviour, but, ultimately, we know that the majority of us will come out the other end and will live good and law-abiding lives into old age. I sometimes wonder whether it would have a better impact if we could keep children away from criminal justice agencies. It probably would. That is a conversation for another day, but I worry about the continual expansion of Garda diversion projects and question why a criminal justice agency is providing for what we would describe as a social or community need, given the risk of labelling the children involved.
On the cycle, we all know that schools are the first touch point for children in need. It is about trying to see how we can best use schools. As it is not an area of policy I examined, I should make that qualification. However, I speak to teachers. My wife is a teacher, as are her friends. Sometimes they do not know what to do if they have a concern about a child. It is not a concern about the level of child protection provided because schools have very much got their heads around the need for child protection. Tusla is also in place. To be honest, I do not know much about that area of policy, but I believe a school is the key engagement point for children in distress. I previously worked with Focus Ireland in homeless services for children. They were 15, 16 and 17 year olds who had all dropped out of school. Had the school system not failed them, the likelihood of their getting involved in anti-social behaviour could have been broken. Ultimately, however, we must always recognise that the majority of people in the age crime curve will get out of it. There have been studies in Scotland which suggest all children - I would say all of the population - commit approximately the same number of offences. The Scottish investigation showed that in many cases children from poorer communities essentially were receiving harsher punishment than children from middle class and wealthier communities, for want of a better term. There is a real issue in that regard. A longitudinal study in Scotland is identifying some of these points. Our behavioural tolerance is lower in poorer communities than it is in more wealthy communities, even though many people might think it has flipped the other way around.
As to why the Training Unit did not work, it was just a gradual slip. I do not know. It would be interesting to question the representatives of the Prison Officers Association who will appear next before the committee on that issue.
With regard to prison officers, the Prison Officers Association has changed dramatically. I have been involved in the area of penal reform for ten years and prison officers have moved. The study trip to Grendon Prison with them showed that to be the case. Prison officers are now receiving more education in Bellad House, the training college for prison officers.
It would have been better to provide prison officer training in a third level institution rather than Beladd House. The current approach reminds me of priests being sent to a training college for priests. Why should a priest not receive general arts education in a regular college, for want of a better description? I wonder why there needs to be a separate institution because prison officer trainees would benefit from interacting with students studying general arts courses such as English, philosophy, psychology, sociology.
Members should quiz the Prison Officers Association about the training unit. The association will be open to the idea of a therapeutic community because it has members who want to work in a different environment. There are many differences among prison officers, with some who do not want change and others who want to work in different environments. For example, work-in-training officers historically have been people with a background in a trade who wanted to work in this area rather than what we might stereotypically think of as turnkeys.
On the facilities in Germany and the Grendon and Hydebank facilities, Germany is where it is at for young adults. My German is not great but there is a description in our report. What I would like to see, which is what one sees in Grendon, is therapeutic practices being introduced in the prison system. Whereas we do not need to create a prison system consisting exclusively of Grendon type institutions, we need therapeutic and restorative practices. Some interesting work is being done in a school in Tallaght, in which the Senator may be interested, on creating schools that are based around restorative practices. The programme in Tallaght is involved in this. This approach would be a major game changer in the prison system in terms using more restorative practices to deal with conflict.
The issue of prison population has been dealt with relatively well by the Prison Service, although it must continue to work towards achieving a target population of 2,750. Segregation remains a significant issue and one which the Prison Officers Association may also raise. Segregation must be challenged. Fr. Peter McVerry will give an interesting description of the colour coding system used in Mountjoy Prison to indicate who can associate with whom. Perhaps we should address this culture of machismo, gangs and non-association with others. Prison provides a space for doing this because segregation is an issue.
Before I bring this session to close, Mr. Carroll indicated he was uncertain about the reasons longer sentences are being handed down. Does he believe there are forces in society, for instance, media-led commentary on crime with a small or big C, that influence sentencing? Are these factors influencing judges' disposition towards particular circumstances?
While I cannot remember the name of the programme that preceded the youth diversion programme, one thing it did not have was an association with the Garda. Parents whose children participated in the scheme have expressed the view that the subtext of the programme is a suggestion that their child's involvement in it was an indication that he or she would fall foul of the law without the provision of this support. This amounts to unnecessary labelling. While Garda input is important, it should be part of a natural scenario. The notion behind youth diversion is if the child is not part of the programme, he or she is likely to end up in juvenile court or whatever the case may be. This view is a fair reflection of parental concern about the designation of the scheme. Does Mr. Carroll have a view on that issue and the issue I raised regarding sentencing?
Mr. Eoin Carroll:
On the Garda youth diversion programmes, the sad reality, one which brings me back to budgets, is that justice is where there is money for these types of projects within the community. While I must introduce the caveat that I have not drilled down into this policy area, from conversations with academics in community studies, the programme does not make sense to them. I do not know if members are familiar with Activelink, which is a go-to website for people seeking employment in the community and voluntary sector. Garda diversion and community projects are still expanding. I wonder whether this could be done with greater partnership with community bodies or youth clubs. It does not need to be targeted at children who are getting involved in misdemeanours. We all know children benefit from youth clubs. Perhaps an analysis of this would benefit.
On the Judiciary and sentencing, we are all influenced by the media. News is constant and live, and judges cannot but be affected by this. However, it is a case of providing legislative options for judges and realising that, for many people, a community alternative is just as tough as a prison sentence. If anything, when a judge states he has sent a person to prison three, four or five times, it should become clear that prison has not worked for the offender and another option should be available, which means providing a menu of options for judges.
I once heard a TED Talk by a South African woman who discussed what is known as ridicule risk, which is our absurd fear of risk. She spoke of the importance of the concept in public services and at a broader level. Her idea was that provided our motivation is correct and we have all our ducks in a row, we should be allowed to take a risk. The community return or support programme was allowing for ridicule risk at one level. If something does not work, we should protect politicians and policymakers as long as their motivations were correct and they behaved properly. We should take more innovative risks in terms of how we respond to these issues.
The Garda youth diversion programme is primarily targeted, certainly in my experience and from where I come, at certain communities and is viewed almost as a form of labelling of children from a particular part of town, housing scheme or whatever. It is unnecessary to have this association. The scheme had a different designation previously and should have a different one again. There is no reason to believe children from any particular area will necessarily take up a wrong path in life. This is an offensive view which works against the interest of the practical and positive features the scheme has to offer. I also agree with Mr. Carroll that the media have an inordinate influence on sentencing. I will leave it at that.
I thank all the members and Mr. Carroll and Dr. Warner in the Gallery. I invite them to join us for a family photograph as part of our montage for the production of our report. I am glad Mr. Carroll made the point about the 2013 committee report because attention has been paid to its recommendations. I assure him that the committee, given the record of reports we have produced, has continued to press the respective areas of address. The recommendations we make are not just hanging out there in the ether or sitting on a shelf, as it were. We want action to follow and we will address this report in exactly the same way and with the same intent.