Pubdate: Mon, 18 Aug 2014
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2014 The Irish Times
Author: Ciaran D'Arcy


Use Of Methadone In Mountjoy Criticised By Prisons Oversight

Prisons are still struggling to tackle drug and staffing problems,
according to the latest round of prison visit reports released by the
Department of Justice today.

One of the reports, which were compiled by prison visiting committees
for various detention centres across the State, expressed severe
reservations over the introduction of methadone into Mountjoy Prison's
low security Training Unit.

Committee members voiced concerns over the highly-addictive nature of
the drug, which is used to wean addicts off opiates such as heroin,
but acknowledged some successes of the fledgling system introduced
earlier this summer.

Despite largely positive findings on conditions in Castlerea,
Mountjoy, Wheatfield and Midlands prisons, the core issues of
understaffing and drug use within jails provided particular points of
concern for inspectors.

The report on Dublin's Wheatfield Prison identified "a lot of
[drug-related] difficulties" still ongoing in the facility, and also
made reference to health issues such as a "vermin" problem caused by
unsanitary methods of refuse disposal from prisoners' cells.

It also detailed problems emanating from severely reduced library
opening times within the 540 capacity prison, a situation which may
detract from prisoners' ongoing rehabilitation according to the Irish
Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).

"While IPRT welcomes the improvements noted, particularly in Mountjoy
Prison, we are concerned at recurring reports of limited access to
libraries and workshops," said IPRT executive director Deirdre Malone.

"It is essential that those aspects of prison life which support
rehabilitation, including year-round access to education, training and
libraries, must be fully resourced and accessible to all prisoners,
including those on restricted regimes," she added.

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald said issues such
as understaffing and drugs remain a top priority for the Irish Prison

"The Irish Prison Service will continue to implement policies and
procedures to reduce the availability and use of illicit drugs in the
prison estate," she said at the publication of the reports.

"Efforts are made on a continuous basis to prevent the flow of
contraband into our prisons. Nevertheless the IPS recognises that
constant improvements are required in this area," she added.

Although offering a largely positive assessment of prisoners'
conditions amid ongoing refurbishments to Mountjoy's D wing, the
report on the unit stated that staffing arrangements had reverted back
to 2012 levels of two prison officers for every 500 prisoners, a
situation which had been described in a previous visiting committee
publication as "unsatisfactory".

It was also found that 30 prisoners had been confined to their cells
for 20 hours a day in the State's largest prison as of January 2014,
with a further 10 locked up for periods of 19 hours per day.

The reports come during a busy period of activity for the IPS, with
the release of two further reports - the inspector of prison's annual
report for 2013 and an 18-month overview on deaths in custody -
expected imminently.

An investigation by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and
Alcohol in April found that 43 per cent of inmates who used heroin had
started taking it in prison, while further visiting committee reports
released at the beginning of May pointed to issues of severe
overcrowding in Cork and Cloverhill prisons, describing some of the
accommodation provided as "Dickensian".  
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D