Irish prisons in deepening crisis


Overcrowding, slopping out, TB infection, pathetic education facilities, Irish prisons are in deep crisis.  Judge "Padlock" Patwell recently retired after 52 years on the bench. He was notorious for his hardline attitude and sent many a man and woman to jail. It was on the subject of  Cork prison that he remarked whilst being interviewed on radio the other day, he was bemaoning the temporary release system, but refered to the 40 prisoners currently sleeping on matresses on the floors of the recreation room.

Cork of course is overcrowded but so is every other Irish prison,  with the exception of the high security wing in Portlaoise. Additionally of course many Irish prisons still have slopping out as the norm.  For those who don't know this is the practice necessitated by the absence of toilet facilities in the cells. Thus prisoners shit and piss into pots in the cells over night and carry the utensils to the toilets in the mornings. That's bad enough but consider that most cells are overcrowded some with 8 prisoners in cells designed for 4, and the picture does not look pretty.

Now the papers are reporting an outbreak of TB in three prisons Cloverhill, Wheatfield and Midlands.  The HSE confirmed this in the Irish Examiner today.  This is truly an indictment of the shoddy, callous and contemptuous way in which the Irish state runs it's prison system.

Even representatives of POA, the screws union, are railing against the conditions. Their members after all have to work in these places.  On top of the vast overcrowding comes the revelation that in 2010 520 people were imprisoned for non payment of fines like TV licences, parking fines etc. Given the conditions in Irish prisons, the widespread promotion of judges of Patwells ilk to the bench and the increase in crime due to the economic downturn resulting in ever more prisoners, and the failure of the state to make any significant effort to alleviate the problem, how long can it be before we witness trouble breaking out in substantial way in these prisons?

The bulk of Irish prisoners are in jail for petty crimes against property, public order offences or because of addiction problems.  There are currently no bankers, politicians etc. in our prisons.  The demographic studies show that the poor, the under educated, people with mental or social problems are vastly over represented in the system.  Given the nature of politics in this state that is not likely to change anytime soon, nor is it likely alternative approaches than imprisonment will be widely explored or pushed by the government.  Unfortunately we are heading into a situation where some sort of explosion is the only way the question will be addressed.