The Interim Report on the Dóchas Centre was published today by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Reilly. The report was presented to the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in October, the response from the Department is available here.
Judge Reilly, has published a number of reports relating to the Dóchas Centre during his tenure, many of which have been critical of the deviation from the original purpose and aims of the prison. In his most recent Report, Judge Reilly states that he is satisfied that the practices which led to this previous criticism have ceased, and that the Dóchas Centre is regaining its former ethos. However he cautions that there are serious issues to be dealt with. Due to Judge Reilly’s concerns, a further report will be published in six months to provide a comprehensive overview of the situation.
Overcrowding is stated to be the single greatest problem facing the Dóchas Centre. In 2012 an adjacent building was renovated and re-purposed to provide a further 20 spaces. However, Judge Reilly writes that more than a building programme is needed to address this. The reasons for the increase in women committals is complex, and tackling this will involves a multi-agency approach. In 1990, there were 155 committals, in 2012 this had risen to 2,092. Judge Reilly recommends tackling homelessness and creating effective diversions as a means of combating this increase.
Judge Reilly states that the population of the Dóchas Centre should not exceed 105 women, combined with the capacity of Limerick women’s prison (24) this means that no more than 129 women should be in prison in Ireland at any time. On 19 June 2013, there were 141. Overcrowding is the key concern regarding the Centre, it leads to arguments, tension, lack of space and appropriate privacy standards.
A breakdown of the figures show that women are overwhelmingly committed to prison for very minor offences, 1,736 women were committed for less than three months in 2012, this is 83% of all committals for that year. For these women, many of which are already marginalised, these short sentences are intensely disruptive, and many lose their accommodation or face issues relating to childcare and family.
Judge Reilly highlights the IPS co-operation with Probation and other agencies and the proposals to have a step-down centre in the Greater Dublin area which could provide a support structure to homeless women, involving intensive case management, addiction services and supported accommodation; it is recommended that women leaving the Dóchas Centre be given special priority in such a centre (akin to measures recommended in the Corston Report). Judge Reilly also advocates alternatives sentences, and reports that judges often have few options, the centre could act as a diversionary measure.
The Interim Report also outlines issues of concern regarding the management of the Dóchas Centre. These issues concerned a perception that certain prisoners were treated more favourably, and issues relating to staff either not being given, or refusing to accept, responsibilities. Judge Reilly stated that he felt the Centre was ‘losing its way‘. Judge Reilly also claimed that staff needed training specifically tailored to working with women prisoners. Certain training measures have been undertaken, such as a two-day training programme Women Awareness for Staff Programme (WASP).
Interestingly, Judge Reilly highlights the gendered nature of the work provided in the Dóchas Centre. He reports that many of the women expressed a wish to undertake some maintenance-type work and he stated that the training and occupations offered at the moment are all very specifically ‘female’. These work options have myriad benefits, including instilling a sense of ownership for the women, as well as equipping them with skills they can use after prison, as well as the practical benefits to the overall repair of the Dóchas Centre.
Read the full report here.