A Catholic bishop has said that “addiction is not a crime” as he appealed to policymakers to pay attention to the medical and psychological needs of prisoners jailed for drug addiction-related crimes.
In a statement for Prisoners’ Sunday, Dr. Martin Hayes, the Irish Prisons Service Liaison Bishop, condemned Irish prisons as being “without humanity” and stressed that many prisoners struggle with loneliness.
Regarding the work of recently retired prison chaplain Sr. Imelda Wickham, the Bishop of Kilmore said she had emphasized that not only are inmates serving the sentences, but their families are also paying the costs.
He paid tribute to prisoners’ families, prison staff and prison chaplains, whose work he said is “vital but not well known in prison services around the world.”
Speaking to Independent.ie, Sr Imelda Wickham said the criminal justice system needed “radical reform”.
She believes the system contributes to Ireland’s high recidivism rate and said the attitude of locking people up and throwing away the key needs to be addressed.
“We are holding people in custody at great financial cost to the state. Locking addicts in jails where minimal treatment is offered will not protect the innocent. We need to address the issue of the appropriateness of a prison environment for those struggling with addiction and mental health. It’s time to set up treatment centers with qualified staff instead. We should leave prisons to those who absolutely need it.”
The presenter, whose book Unheard Voices: Reflections of a Prison Chaplain was published earlier this year, said the current housing crisis is another factor contributing to high levels of recidivism, as the homeless who leave prison have nowhere to go were able to walk and this led them back to addiction.
At a conference organized by Sr. Wickham earlier this year in Co Laois on the need for a nationwide conversation on prison reform, Father Peter McVerry told the assembled prison service staff, Gardaí and representatives from various social agencies that more than 70 percent of those in prison people in prison Ireland has an addiction.
“Most receive little help in prison and still leave prison dependent. Drugs are readily available in most of our prisons, despite the prison service’s best efforts to keep them out,” said Father McVerry.
At the same conference, Ian O’Donnell, professor of criminology at University College Dublin and former director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said 40 per cent of those imprisoned in Ireland have been sentenced to six months or less.
“We have to ask: Who are we imprisoning and why are we imprisoning them?” Sr Imelda said, noting that restorative justice is a “completely underutilized” model in Ireland, although it is successful in many countries.
She called for the implementation of the recommendations of the 2009 report by the National Commission on Restorative Justice.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/crime/addiction-is-not-a-crime-bishop-says-as-drug-dependent-offenders-fill-prisons-42123222.html “Addiction is not a crime,” the bishop says, as drug-addicted offenders fill prisons