herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Prisoners 'prefer jail to having to live on streets,' says Mayor

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LORD Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke said that his visit to the Dochas Centre highlighted the problem of homelessness in the city.

The city's first citizen spent almost five hours chatting to prisoners there and in the adjoining Mountjoy men's prison in what he called an "eye-opening visit".

He likened it to one of his clinics in the north inner city because of the number of housing and homelessness problems relayed to him by prisoners.

"I met women who have chosen to go back to prison rather than face homelessness, it's tragic," he told the Herald.

More thought will have to be given as to how best to accommodate people leaving prison he said.

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It was "heartbreaking" to hear the scale of the problems facing people who wanted to sort their lives out he added.

The Dochas Centre houses approximately 100 female prisoners.

"There is a very, very strong focus on the arts and on rehabilitation in general," Mr Burke noted.

The relationship between the prisoners and staff was admirable and marked by mutual respect he said.

"I was impressed with the great bond between both the male and female prisoners and the guards," he continued.

"There is no wall between them and that's really encouraging."

Mr Burke said that he was sorry the nominations for the Mayoral awards for outstanding citizens has closed before his visit because he felt that Mary O'Connor, director of the Dochas Centre, deserved one.

The female inmates in the Dochas Centre have invited the Lord Mayor back to the prison for dinner.

"A lot of people said to me that they have never lived so healthily before," he said.

"Some of them were as young as 18 and in there for sheer pettiness. Unfortunately some people just end up on the wrong path," he added.

"I was impressed by all aspects of the prisons, the surroundings, the courses on offer, the staff and the prisoners' desire to rehabilitate."

The Dochas Centre houses some of Ireland's most notorious female criminals including 'Black Widow' Catherine Nevin and the so-called Scissor Sisters Charlotte and Linda Mulhall.

Nevin (62) was jailed for life in April 2000 for the 1996 murder of her husband, Tom.

Charlotte Mulhall was convicted in 2007 for stabbing her mother's boyfriend Farah Swaleh Noor to death at a Ballybough house. Her sister Linda (35) is serving 15 years for his manslaughter.

In 2013 a report by the Inspector of Prisons criticised the centre as overcrowded and suffering from a lack of some essential services.

However, the Lord Mayor said that he would be quick to highlight any flaws that he found during his visit but that there was none to report.

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