Home > Council of Europe highlights drug-related violence in Irish prisons.

Connolly, Johnny (2011) Council of Europe highlights drug-related violence in Irish prisons. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 37, Spring 2011, p. 27.

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The availability of drugs, the existence of feuding gangs, and overcrowding have been identified as factors contributing to ‘high rates of inter-prisoner violence in Mountjoy prison’, according to a report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT).1 Although the CPT acknowledges a number of measures which have been taken to address safety concerns since its visit in 2006, Mountjoy Prison, it states, ‘remains unsafe for prisoners and prison staff alike. … Stabbings, slashings and assaults with various objects are an almost daily occurrence’ (p. 21).  

The CPT delegation observed that drug misuse remains a ‘major challenge’ in all prisons visited, and that ‘management and health-care staff in most prisons visited acknowledged both the rising numbers of prisoners with a substance abuse problem and the widespread availability of drugs’ (p. 41).
The CPT acknowledges that, since its visit in October 2006, further investment has been made to implement the Irish Prison Service drug strategy through initiatives such as the provision of detoxification, methadone maintenance, education programmes, addiction counselling and drug therapy programmes. However, the CPT states that it has ‘serious concerns over the manner in which methadone prescribing is carried out in Cork, Midlands and Mountjoy Prisons’ (p. 41).
Methadone, according to the CPT, should only be prescribed as part of a comprehensive drug treatment programme that includes engagement with ‘addiction counsellors, addiction nurses and as required an addiction psychiatrist’ (p. 42). Furthermore, it states: ‘The dose of methadone prescribed as maintenance should be that required to stabilise a prisoner’s drug use to the extent that the inmate injects or uses opiates less frequently and remains in contact with prison addiction services’ (p. 42). These practices were not observed at either Midlands or Mountjoy prisons, where, according to the CPT, there were a number of serious shortcomings. Prisoners who were on a methadone prescription at the time of admission ‘often merely had the dose continued and were not required to engage with the addictions counsellor … many of the methadone prescriptions were illegible … there was a lack of medical review of the prescription … there was no reference to the frequency of drug use, including injecting, or to the nature of illicit drugs consumed; for example, monitoring through regular analysis of urine’ (p. 42). At Midlands prison ‘urinalysis results were not annotated in prisoners medical records; apparently, they were not even kept at the prison’ (p. 42).
A further concern related to the prescription of methadone as a detoxification agent either upon admission to prison or when an inmate identified him/herself as having an illicit drug use problem. The absence of any assessment as to whether a prisoner was likely to suffer from drug withdrawal subsequent to admission and the practice of placing a prisoner who gave a history of drug use on a three-week methadone detoxification programme were also highlighted in the report. Given that there was no routine follow-up of withdrawal or other symptoms and no assessment as to whether prisoners were continuing their illicit drug use on top of the prescribed methadone detoxification, the delegation concluded that ‘for a number of prisoners in receipt of a methadone detoxification prescription it could be stated that this was simply “free petrol”’ (p. 42). 
The CPT also notes the additional measures taken to prevent drugs entering prisons, such as security checks on staff and visitors, the development of canine drug detection units, the introduction of mandatory drug testing, booked visits and improved intelligence gathering. It states that the effectiveness of these measures should be carefully monitored, suggesting for example, that ‘security checks on staff should be as rigorous as they are for visitors, which was not the case at Mountjoy Prison’ (p. 41).
The CPT concludes its report with a list of recommendations, comments and requests for information. Included among the drug-related recommendations are the following:
  • all prisoners admitted while on a methadone maintenance programme in the community to be able to continue such maintenance within prison as part of a comprehensive drug treatment programme; 
  • prisoners undergoing drug withdrawal to be provided with the necessary support to alleviate their suffering and not to be placed in a cell without integral sanitation; 
  • steps to be taken to remedy the deficiencies related to the prescription of methadone. 
In its published response to the CPT report,2 the Irish government explains that, while the information gathered by the CPT in relation to visits, reports and consultations of this nature is confidential, ‘when requested to do so by the Government concerned, the Committee is required to simultaneously publish its report, together with the comments of the Government’ (p. 5). The government’s request to have both the CPT report and its own response published was made ‘in the interests of openness, transparency and accountability’. Consequently, the Council of Europe published on the same day the CPT report and the response of the Irish government to the report.
1. Council of Europe (2011) Report to the government of Ireland on the visit to Ireland carried out by the European Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT). Strasbourg: Council of Europe. www.cpt.coe.int
2. Council of Europe (2011) Response of the Government of Ireland to the report of the European Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT) on its visit to Ireland. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. www.cpt.coe.int

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