Examiner Editorial on Ireland’s Scandalous Prisons. I will judge the next government by the amount of progress it makes in making the Prison’s humane.

Prison chaplains’ report – A scandal of betrayal and neglect
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
THIS week the Irish Prison Chaplains’ Report revealed abuse of thousands of our fellow citizens almost on a par with the terrible human neglect and abandonment recorded in the Murphy and Ferns reports.
But, because those involved are prisoners serving sentences in our decrepit, overcrowded jails there won’t be any hand-wringing, there won’t be any sense of national shame or deep, almost aching, hurt that this is/was done in our name. No one will light candles to protest on behalf of those caught up in a terrible, demeaning and counterproductive system.

There are no clerics who abused their power; the sexual torture of young people is not an issue. The destruction of lives that cannot or will not contribute to society without that society’s help and positive intervention is again the core issue.

Those criminals sent to our jails, as well as our brothers, sisters, neighbours or their children who succumb to a psychiatric illness, are two groups we seem to imagine exist outside the remit of basic human obligations — not to mention the Christian teaching we seem to put such great store in.

Even in this time of crisis the chaplains’ report was an indictment of this society’s long-term indifference to the plight of those who are outside the norm.

Of course there are dangerous and evil people held in our jails, people society must punish and protect itself from, but there are many others too. Even the grimmest view of humanity must allow that the majority of people in our jails might become better, less threatening people if they had the opportunities most of us regard as normal and demand for our children. Yet, we force them into an environment that is more likely to push them further from what we expect of each other.

The report found conditions that were “an insult to the dignity of any human being and an affront to the basic tenets of decency”. It reminded us, because unlike Murphy and Ferns, we all know about this scandal already, that Mountjoy was built for 489 prisoners but last July held 759 and that “129 prisoners did not even have a bed to sleep in. Some did not even have a mattress to sleep on”. Cork jail was built for 146 but in July held 334 prisoners.

Not only are our jails inhumanly overcrowded they support a drug culture that seems unquenchable. In a parallel with our psychiatric service, where drugs are used to control difficult patients, we sedate our prisoners except we allow them to self administer the drugs.

Last year, 27,227 random drug tests found that one-in-three were positive for heroin, cocaine or cannabis. “In some jails, more than 50% of those tested were positive for heroin,” said the report.

Plainly the system is not working and is, sadly, appallingly, infuriatingly, yet another example of a failed society. These failures are even less acceptable because every government for decades has known that the crisis has to be resolved one way or the other.

Prison is about punishment but it must hold the possibility of redemption too. If it doesn’t then we fail the criminals who might become better citizens as much as they have failed us and themselves.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/editorial/prison-chaplains-report–a-scandal-of-betrayal-and-neglect-138046.html#ixzz16ovaeE1F