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‘End severe confinement of young adults in prison’

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has called on the Government to end ‘severe confinement’ for young adults in prison. Out of fear for their own safety, young adults are spending seventeen hours daily in their cells, with some spending up to twenty-three hours locked up, according to Eoin Carroll, JCFJ Advocacy Officer. He was speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland and at the launch of the Jesuit Centre’s report, Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults. The report also recommends that Katherine Zappone TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, be assigned responsibility for 18-24 year-olds in the criminal justice system, and said the number of young adults in prison should be halved.

Speaking on Today With Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio one Peter McVerry who visits Mountjoy and Wheatfield prisons weekly said, ” This particular age group are not yet fully developed adults, as psychologists will attest to. They are still in enhanced adolescence and have specific needs that may not be addressed  by a prison system that treats them as adults. They are prone to impulsiveness and find it difficult to control aggression and that can be viewed as uncooperative in prison and they may be locked up in ‘protection’ for up to 24 hours. The vast majority of these young people grown out of crime and prison should be facilitating that process. The means enhancing their relationships in particular, and facilitating prison visits from their family and loved ones instead of dramatically limiting them.”

Read their press release below.

 Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice launches report into young adults in prison

11am: 31 May 2016

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice Today (Tuesday, 31st May 2016) called on the Government to end ‘severe confinement’ for young adults in prison. Out of fear for their own safety, 100+ young adults (aged 18–24) are spending as much as 23 hours a day in their cell, according to Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer for the Centre, speaking at the launch of the Jesuit Centre’s report, Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults.

The Centre recommends that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone TD, be assigned responsibility for 18–24 year olds in the criminal justice system, and that the number of young adults in prison should be halved and accommodated separately to older prisoners.

Joanne O’Riordan (@nolimbsnolimbs) launching the Jesuit Centre’s report, Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults, said:

“It is shocking to learn that people in prison, my age, spend so much time locked in their cell. That the norm is around 17 hours locked up each day and that there are over 100 young adults locked up for longer, some for 23 hours.”

Fr Peter McVerry, who visits Mountjoy and Wheatfield prisons each week, speaking at the launch said:

“Far too many young people in prison spend almost all their time in prison locked up in their cells, out of fear for their own safety. The issue of safety, both for prisoners and staff, is a major concern. The conflicts and issues around drugs which exist within the community continue when a person is imprisoned. Promoting an environment where both prisoners and staff feel safe is not an easy task but involves promoting restorative practices and conflict resolution, involving young people in decision making and providing access to a wide range of educational and training services, including access to drug detoxification and treatment.”

Joanne O’Riordan at the launch told the story of her visit to Fort Mitchel Prison: “As a baby my parents brought me to Fort Michel Prison, since closed, on Spike Island in Cork. The prisoners there – mainly in their early 20’s – decided to organise a fundraiser for my family. When my parents heard, they wanted to personally thank them. I spent a day playing with them in the prison. Such a gesture, prisoners raising money for someone, really challenges our perception about people in prison as being just ‘bad’”.

Peter McVerry went on to say: “Imprisonment is inherently a negative experience. Learning from the decisions we make is a key dimension to a young person’s development. However, in prison all decisions are made for you by the prison authorities. If we are going to lock young people up, involving young people, as far as possible, in the decisions that affect their life in prison should be a priority. Most young people in prison have left school early, have no qualifications or skills, often poor literacy skills, no history of employment. Indeed they have been failed by all the systems in society. It should be a priority to ensure that their time in prison is used constructively, by equipping them for life outside prison through educational and skills training. Unfortunately, for many young people, they leave prison no more equipped for life than the day they entered prison.”

Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer in the Jesuit Centre, outlining findings and recommendations from the report, said: “We need to reduce the number of young adults we send to prison. Representing 12 per cent of the adult population nationally, 18–24 year olds make up 24 per cent of all those sent to prison each year. Looking to Finland, there is no reason why we cannot reduce by half the number of young adults in prison.”

Furthermore:

“What our report highlights as being particularly startling is the percentage of young adults on ‘extended lock up’ what we refer to as ‘severe confinement’. Thirty-one percent of adults on extended lock up times are aged 18–24. The most recent figures we have showed that seventeen young adults were locked in their cell for 23 hours each and every day. This is hard to fathom, over the course of a week that is 161 hours out of 168 locked up.”

In addition:

“The evidence is there as to why young adults end up in prison. At a structural level: poverty, deprivation, social exclusion, an inadequate supply of housing and exclusion from school. We also know that young adults are risk takers, impulsive and do not fully understand the consequences of their action. In fact, they are more similar to children then older adults. Logically then – as is the practice in many other countries – young adults in the criminal justice system should come under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone.”

“Behaviourally, all young adults push boundaries and challenge authority; within the prison system this has resulted in a disproportionate number of 18-24 year olds being placed on the ‘basic’ accommodation level. What this means is that they have less access to family visits and telephone calls. 9 per cent of young adults in prison compared to 2.6 per cent of all adults are on ‘basic’ level meaning they have only one half hour visit per week. This is contrary to the necessity of keeping young adults in contact with family and community.”

[Ends]

For further comment and information, please contact:

Eoin Carroll 087 2250 793

Advocacy Officer, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice

[Notes]

The Jesuit Centre’s report, Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults, is available at www.jcfj.ie

Speakers

Joanne O’Riordan is a campaigner and activist on a number of issues, including disability rights, and is currently studying for a degree in criminology in University College Cork. When Joanne was a baby she visited Fort Mitchel Prison on Spike Island (Cork) after the young adults imprisoned there organised a fundraiser for her.

Peter McVerry SJ is a social justice advocate with a particular focus on homelessness. Peter is a visiting prison chaplain and member of the Jesuit Centre team.

Eoin Carroll is Advocacy Officer with the Jesuit Centre. Eoin co-ordinated the production of the report. His background is in social policy analysis.