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Irish Prison policy 'disaster' with drugs and overcrowding rampant, say chaplains
PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent on 30NOV10
CURRENT PRISON policy in Ireland is a “disaster”, the State’s prison chaplains have said.

Making the State’s prisons safer and drug free was in everyone’s interest, the chaplains concluded in their annual report for 2010, published yesterday. “The only obstacle is political will,” they said.

Conditions in many prisons were “an insult to the dignity of any human being and an affront to the basic tenets of decency”. Prisoners were subject to overcrowding, drugs and violence.

They noted that Mountjoy was built for 489 prisoners but in July this year it held 759 prisoners, which meant that “129 prisoners did not even have a bed to sleep in; indeed some did not even have a mattress to sleep on”.

Wheatfield was designed for 320 but on July 30th last it held 508 prisoners. “A 75-year-old man was sleeping on a mattress,” the report noted.

Cork jail was built for 146 but on July 30th last it held 334 prisoners. Dóchas (the women’s prison) was built for 85 but held 180 prisoners. Limerick jail, built for 185 prisoners, held 322.

Meanwhile in 2009, 27,227 random drug tests on prisoners disclosed that 33 per cent were positive for heroin, cocaine or cannabis. “In some jails, more than 50 per cent of those tested were positive for heroin.”

The chaplains concluded that a culture had developed in prisons which successfully perpetuates pro-drug attitudes.

As career criminals with 100 convictions are spared jail, MPs ask... What DOES get you locked up?
By Daniel Martin and James Slack
Last updated at 3:06 PM on 15th October 2010
Thousands of career criminals are being spared jail despite having amassed at least 50 convictions.

Almost 2,700 were handed a community sentence after being found guilty more than 50 times before.

Incredibly, 315 offenders even received a non-custodial punishment after 100 or more previous offences.

The figures, seen by the Mail, also show more than 13,000 on at least their 30th offence received a community penalty – widely derided as ‘soft’ by critics.

It means offenders who are convicted of 30 or more crimes are 1,000 times more likely to be given a community sentence or a fine than end up in prison.

MPs and experts said the alarming revelations showed why Kenneth Clarke should be imprisoning more convicts – not fewer.

Criminologist Dr David Green, director of the Civitas think-tank, said even more prolific offenders could escape jail in future.

‘It’s all very well giving out community sentences for minor offences – but if you’re on your 101st conviction, then it’s evidence of being a career criminal,’ he added.

‘I would have thought a long custodial sentence would be appropriate for these people, who will have been committing crimes more or less every day for all their adult life. If they do allow career criminals to roam the streets, we can safely say there will be a rise in crime.’

Tory backbencher Philip Davies said: ‘These statistics show what a joke the criminal justice system has become. You have to work very hard to get into prison nowadays.

‘No wonder people have lost faith in the criminal justice system when we see people carrying out literally hundreds of crimes and getting off time and time again.’

But the Justice Secretary yesterday remained defiant over his plans to hand out community punishments rather than short jail terms.

He said: ‘Simply banging up more and more people for longer without actively seeking to change them is not going to protect the public. I do not think prison is or should be a numbers game’.

The re-offending figures, which are for 2008, were revealed last week by Justice Minister Crispin Blunt following a parliamentary question.

They show that the problem of repeat offending has been getting worse. In 2006, a total of 179 criminals were spared jail after 100 convictions – not much more than half of the 315 figure in 2008.

And whereas in 2002 a total of 1,200 had 50 or more convictions, that had soared to 2,670 in 2008.

select forfull story Riot breaks out at Rochester young offenders' institute
15 OCT 2010
A riot broke out at a young offenders’ institute in Rochester, causing thousands of pounds of damage.

Teenage inmates at HM Cookham Wood sparked an all-day disturbance early on Wednesday morning.

It is believed trouble broke out among offenders, aged 16 to 18, in the education block of the unit, in Sir Evelyn Road.

According to a source, teenagers wrecked the area and caused thousands of pounds of damage.

Guards are understood not to have brought the situation under control until early evening.

Police were informed about the incident, but officers were not sent to the scene and the matter was dealt with by the Prison Service.

Medway Police said there may be police involvement later.

A Prison Service spokesman confirmed an "incident of concerted indiscipline involving five prisoners" took place.

He added: "The incident was resolved by staff and concluded at 7pm with no injuries to staff or prisoners."

By GRAEME WILSON, Deputy Political Editor 6 OCT 10
THOUSANDS of yobs and "anti-social petty criminals" will NOT be jailed under plans unveiled by Ken Clarke yesterday.
The Justice Secretary declared prison should be used only for violent, dangerous criminals and "gangsters".

Instead, he said tough community sentences should be given to less serious offenders who do not "behave themselves".

His comments in his speech to the Conference appeared to clash with Home Secretary Theresa May's vow to launch a new war on thugs who terrorise communities.

He said: "Dangerous offenders must always be punished with prison.

"But let us not deceive ourselves that the previous Government left 85,000 serious gangsters in prison, that our prisons are only populated by muggers, burglars and violent and dangerous individuals.

"We have 11,000 foreign prisoners and thousands of anti-social petty criminals who fail to behave in everyday life."

Mr Clarke said it was "absurd" that 53,000 criminals were jailed for less than six months in 2008 and two-thirds re-offended within a year of their release.

Mrs May pledged a crackdown, saying: "Vandalism isn't 'anti-social behaviour' - it's crime. Intimidation isn't 'anti-social behaviour' - it's crime."

But Mr Clarke said he was not "mollycoddling criminals".

Prisons have long been a lamentably neglected area of policy
The Independent 6 OCT 10
select for full story
Yesterday Mr Clarke went further. Not only does he want fewer people locked up, he wants those who are imprisoned to be usefully, and even gainfully, employed. And instead of the derisory sums – an average of £8 a week, cash in hand – that prisoners are permitted to earn at present, he promised 40 hours of real work a week in return for the minimum wage.

It is hard to know what not to like about these proposals. As Mr Clarke said yesterday, prisons are places of "sluggishness and boredom", where prisoners are often left to vegetate in their cells. The availability of drugs in prison, while a national disgrace, is a separate issue. For most people on the outside, it beggars belief that so many prisons have made so little effort to root out the pervasive drug culture that has developed there. In one way, though, it is related: the lack of any even vaguely stimulating activity produces the boredom that fosters the drug-taking, which is then tolerated by prison managers for the sake of a quiet life.

One of the Labour government's great failings was to fill the prisons in the name of being tough on crime, while doing little or nothing to tackle either the drug problem or the paucity of opportunities for training and rehabilitation. If Mr Clarke manages to carry out what he is proposing, almost everyone should benefit. Many more prisoners will have something useful to do, and a reason – a wage packet – beyond mere activity, to do it. A record of working and perhaps a skill should be an asset when it comes to their reintegration into society when they are released.

Mr Clarke's proposals are also imaginative in that it is not only prisoners who stand to benefit. Some of their pay would be used to compensate their victims; some of it could contribute to their living costs while in prison. Another part could be saved for their release. It is suggested that these savings might be held in a special fund and made accessible a year or so later, on condition that the prisoner has not re-offended within that time.

The difficulties, as so often, will be in the implementation. Cost is bound to be an issue – but it already costs a huge sum to keep somone in prison. If, as must be hoped, the effect is to reduce re-offending, the outlay will be repaid. Any concern that prisoners will be employed at the expense of other job-seekers should be scotched by the minimum wage stipulation, while a requirement to work should answer complaints that prisoners have an easy life. The only substantial objection raised yesterday concerned sick and disabled prisoners. But a work test might mean that they would, finally, receive the medical treatment they need.

Mary Riddell 6 OCT 10
Three cheers for Ken Clarke. In a strange conference in which hopes far exceed the money needed to underpin them, he has come up with the best idea to emerge from the platform.

select for full story Saying that prisoners should work a 40-hour week for the minimum wage makes sense on every level. Victims would be rewarded from the proceeds, cash sent home to families and taxes paid. The iniquity of having fit and healthy young people sitting idly in their cells at the taxpayers’ expense currently instils the idea that it’s fine not to earn a living.

Now, assuming the scheme gets off the ground, all that is going to alter. There are already good examples in British prisons. High Down runs a gourmet restaurant, The Clink, where prisoners are trained up for the catering trade and given hope of a good job on their release. Wansdworth does IT, bricklaying, plastering and shoe repairs. Now it’s up to Mr Clarke and individual governors to build on that model.

This victory is gratifying for the Howard League, which held a fringe meeting this week demanding just such a change. At the event, which I chaired, the prisons minister, Crispin Blunt, spoke powerfully of the benefits of work, and delegates were in broad agreement.

If the Ministry of Justice can make this plan work, then they will have produced an alchemy that has so far eluded all other departments – how to do more with less.

Met police chief says he is
'rather fond of villains going to prison'
select for full story Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, has waded into the debate about Britain's prison population by opposing government proposals to lock up fewer criminals.

11 August 2010

Stephenson also expressed his support for handing out short-term prison sentences for offences such as burglary, contradicting the justice secretary Kenneth Clarke's recent comments that it was "virtually impossible" to rehabilitate offenders on short-term sentences.

The government has launched a review of sentencing policy, with Clarke indicating that he favours a greater emphasis on community sentences rather than putting more criminals behind bars.

Asked if he agreed that fewer people should go to prison, Stephenson told radio station LBC 97.3: "Don't forget what my mission in life is: save life, prevent crime. I'm rather fond of villains going to prison. I rather like it.

"I've said on many occasions, I think I've said it on this show before, that before a burglar burgles a house, he should anticipate a period of imprisonment if and when he's caught.

"I'm a fan of that and I also think that victims of serious crime would actually think that prison works."

Burglary can carry sentences of less than a year.

In comments that provoked discomfort on the Tory right, Clarke said: "Banging up more and more people for longer without actively seeking to change them is what you would expect of Victorian England."

He called for a "rehabilitation revolution", with sentencing policy focused on targeting the causes of reoffending.

Stephenson said there was a need for a "balance between retribution and rehabilitation" in the justice system. "I believe in both," he said.

Stephenson's predecessor as Met commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, is taking part in an inquiry examining short-term prison sentences, set up by Make Justice Work, which hopes to find workable alternatives to locking people up.

Clarke's comments directly signalled the abandonment of the "prison works" orthodoxy, launched by the former home secretary, Michael Howard. The justice secretary faces mounting pressure to halt Britain's £4bn prison-building programme, the largest in Europe. Howard said he was "not convinced" by Clarke's position and that "serious and persistent criminals need to be put in prison".