Prison Visiting Committees 22/11/2011

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This is a fundamental human rights issue. The revelations in the report about practices in the women’s prison are very worrying. They indicate a move away from the ethos which used to prevail of a progressive and rehabilitative outlook to one which is much more punitive. As somebody who spent a month there I am well aware of the set-up in the Dóchas Centre, and this is an extremely worrying trend which will be bad for the women and the staff.

At the root of many of the problems highlighted by the report is the issue of overcrowding. At one stage 150 women were in the facility which was designed for 85 people. This is double the number in a very small area and goes completely against the idea of respect and dignity and people having their own space.

The two cases referred to by Deputy O’Brien are appalling. It is a scandal and it made me physically sick to read the accounts because of what they revealed. The practice of searching people in front of others, be they male or female, in a gym without proper protection after having locked down the facility and maintaining searches had no purpose other than to degrade. As somebody who was strip-searched, albeit not, thankfully, in those circumstances, it is an extremely humiliating and vulnerable position for anybody to be in. I want an investigation into whether it was carried out in the manner in which it is alleged.

I am aware of reports in which the Minister disputed some of the findings. I ask that the internal report be published. There should be an independent investigation into the incidents and I agree this reinforces the need for an independent complaints mechanism to exist in prisons.

Will the Minister comment on the other issue, which is the slopping out situation? Several weeks ago in answer to a question I asked, the Minister stated 830 prisoners did not have access to 24-hour in-cell sanitation, of which 555 shared a cell. What is the timescale for addressing these issues? We need a process to investigate them publicly.

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