Clare Daly and Mick Wallace attended a District Court case at the Criminal Court of Justice, on Wednesday, 19 October – a case taken by the DPP, in relation to allegations that Leon Wright, currently a prisoner in Block A, Portlaoise Prison, had assaulted a prison officer in 2013.
Initially we had been contacted by Leon’s solicitor, raising concerns that his human rights were being violated, in relation to the manner in which his custody was being handled and the segregated nature of his incarceration.
We had been to visit Leon in Portlaoise and felt that it was important that we should go to the Court case and observe some of the allegations which had been repeatedly made about him, in relation to his behaviour towards prison officers. The case against Leon was thrown out by Judge Alan Mitchell, who was deeply concerned at what he had heard in court, and requested that a transcript of the digital audio recording be provided by the Court Service, with a request that the matters raised might be of concern and warrant further investigation by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly. The judge identified inconsistencies in the testimony of the prison offers. Leon’s defense counsel, Emmet Nolan claimed that Leon was stripped naked and beaten by the prison officers.
We were utterly shocked at some of the evidence presented in court. We believe it raises serious issues concerning the manner in which Leon’s incarceration has been handled. Prison policy is supposed to be dictated on the basis that people are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment, that the time spent should be used to try to rehabilitate that person into society. At present, Leon is in 23 hour solitary confinement and receives no education. We firmly believe that serious damage is being done to this already damaged individual and believe that it is absolutely critical that he is reintegrated into the prison population and entitled to access education and other developmental courses. Leon is scheduled to be released in about eighteen months. Would it not be a more positive approach to give him some of the necessary help now, rather than more punishment, that may have the potential to make him worse when he returns to society?
We know that this badly damaged individual has a frightening history of acts of violence. It goes without saying that we believe that all prison staff should be able to work safely, free from threats and violence. Our intervention is motivated by a desire for a safer environment for prisoners, staff and society at large.