herald

Saturday 18 August 2018

Gerry O'Carroll: A test of our humanity is how we treat prisoners and on that we've failed

"Stabbings, slashings and assaults... high rates of inter-prisoner violence... availability of drugs... existence of feuding gangs."

Are we talking about life in some crime-infested ghetto of Mexico City?

No, these words are from a report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and are used to describe Mountjoy Prison.

The shocking and hard-hitting report presents a damning indictment of the appalling culture of everyday drug violence and assaults in our country's largest jail.

It doesn't pull any punches. It states that conditions were discovered in the prison that were unsafe, inhumane and degrading for staff and prisoners.

Violent attacks with weapons were an almost daily occurrence, it is stated.

A test of our humanity is how we run our prisons and treat inmates. On that we've failed.

The question must be asked -- how the Dept of Justice allowed this prison to deteriorate to such an extent?

But sadly there is nothing new in this report.

Over the past 10 years, prison inspectors here have filed report after report on the deplorable conditions in Mountjoy, the slopping out, the chronic overcrowding, the use of drugs, prisoner-on-prisoner attacks, as well as those on staff.

All these reports have fallen on the deaf ears of officialdom. In the recent past, I have highlighted the dire conditions and the ever increasing deteriorating state of Mountjoy, which is effectively a powder keg ready to explode at any moment.

Jungle

In truth, this jail is a shame on all of us, as a society. It is a shambles, an out of control, dysfunctional institution, grossly overcrowded where the law of the jungle holds sway.

For outsiders it appears a terrifying and nightmare world, and I have no doubt it is the same for prisoner and prison officer alike, who live under the constant threat of unprovoked attack with deadly weapons.

The Herald publicised the latest attack in the prison, a brutal slashing of a man across the face in his cell on the A wing. But attacks like this happen with such regularity that they often go unreported.

The latest attack took place with an improvised blade, but actually knives have been smuggled into the prison in the past.

Last October, the same wing of the prison was the scene of a riot, staged by 70 inmates in response to a crackdown on drug smuggling into the prison.

In a court case this month, prisoner Declan O'Reilly admitted stabbing a fellow prisoner to death on a landing in the jail. He did so because he was so afraid of Derek Glennon, the gang member he knifed.

We also had the awful killing of inmate Gary Douche, who was subjected to a depraved attack in a crammed basement holding cell at the jail in 2006.

Many of the institutions in this State are dysfunctional -- our hospitals, our banks, our Government itself.

But no one wants to talk about prisons, few politicians have any desire to cross the Liffey and visit Mountjoy.

There are no votes on A wing, so we instead opt to try to keep the lid on the pressure cooker there.

Mountjoy is a powder keg, ready to explode. It's not if, it's when. And we don't need another report to tell us this.

And when it goes there will be tragedy and, inevitably, loss of life. Mark my words, there's a major tragedy waiting to happen.

Will the DPP seek justice for Robert's family?

IF I admitted pointing a gun at a policeman and firing it while making an escape, I would be convicted for manslaughter -- at the very least.

Why should it be any different if I drove a car at him while escaping and killed him?

That was my reaction to the court case which followed the death of Garda Robert McCallion, who was knocked down and killed while on duty in Letterkenny in 2009.

The man who ran over him, Jamie McGrenaghan, was given seven years, with one suspended, after he admitted driving a car at Garda McCallion.

His death was a dreadful tragedy. In the years I was in the force, 13 of my colleagues died in the line of duty in violent incidents. This was no different.

I found that Judge John O'Hagan's summing up was extraordinary and disquieting.

Deadly

He told jurors: "Don't be carried away by the fact he was a garda. You must look at it in a cold and a calculated manner."

But the fact that McCallion was a garda, on duty, was a pertinent detail. After all, he was a policeman, tasked with stopping crime and encountered McGrenaghan in those circumstances. Surely that is relevant?

We need to enforce a system where a car is seen as a deadly weapon, the same as a knife or a gun. The excuse given by this little thug, that he 'did not mean it', should not be accepted.

But all this is cold comfort to the McCallion family. After the case they were disappointed with the verdict and the fact McGrenaghan was not convicted of manslaughter.

As the McCallion family stated, gardai must be protected by the law, as they protect ordinary citizens.

This case has caused such disquiet and dismay that I wonder if the DPP may appeal.

Deeply moved by comedian Des's dignity

I WAS deeply moved by the dignity displayed by Des Bishop about his father's cancer.

The young comedian has staged a heartwarming tribute to his dad in his current show, which he wrote as his dad's disease was in the terminal stages.

Mike Bishop passed away earlier this month, and Des is now back on the road, touring his 'dad's' show.

A recent TV documentary, which showed his father battling the illness, was heartbreaking.

But it was uplifting, too, and helped shine a light on the realities of battling this awful disease.

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