John Lonergan Transcript
Published on 25th November 2011
Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode John Lonergan. former Governor of Mountjoy Prison, talks of his time in the Prison Service and his philosophy on prison, dealing with prisoners and people in general. He touches on parenting, the importance of education, self-esteem and community. Recorded in front of a live audience at the Central Library in September 2011 as part of its 'Crime and the City' series.
Thanks very much for the invitation because it’s great to the opportunity just to share a few I suppose experiences with people and then hopefully later on we’ll have some dialogue and some debate or some discussion because it’s a subject that everybody has an opinion on. Probably one of the subjects…there was an old man that used to work years and years ago in Mountjoy and he said it’s a the one subject that everybody has an opinion on and the further you’re removed from the field of a prison the more stronger your opinions are which is actually true and that’s not a criticism that’s just because of I suppose the lack of insight and information into it. As it’s been said I have been involved in the system for 42 years plus, starting off in Limerick in 1968, and I’ve often said reminiscing, looking back 42 years ago, a different world, a different prison system, a different society – everything was different. Indeed I’ve a friend who says that we, us, people, our generation who were born in the late 40s and early 50s probably lived through the greatest changing society and culture of any other generation ever past and he claims ever future as well. And I wouldn’t disagree with him because we lived through phenomenal change and just looking at the prison services, an isolated issue, and crime we had around 660 people in prison in total in Ireland in those days 260 of them were juveniles or under age 16-21 year olds so we only had 400 adults in three prisons, in Limerick – a small little local prison, Portlaoise – where all the convicts were, that was a substitute for transportation penal servitude, they were known as convicts. Prior to 1856 of course we got rid of all our problems to other countries and then after 1856/57, that period, transportation from Ireland ended and we substituted transportation with a penalty called penal servitude. It’s gone now off the legislation completely. I don’t think there’s any sentences left of penal servitude but the idea of penal servitude was that it was a complete substitute for transportation. And the difference between it and imprisonment was that it was a sentence that at one stage was handed down, the time of the warrant ran irrespective of whether you were in custody or not, so if you could escape and stay out for 4 or 5 years the time actually was still being served because the idea was well sure if you were transported well you couldn’t escape as such. That was the idea.
But anyway that’s gone now and now we have imprisonment almost for every crime but anyway that was to just put it into perspective I suppose and like everybody else, anybody here as well that wouldn’t have any insight into the system, I’m sure you would be thinking the very same as I was thinking way back in 1968 that all the baddies were in prison, all the goodies were outside and that was it. And off I went with that sort of an expectation and it was proved to be fatal because almost instantly I discovered that the reality was a million miles away from what I expected and I’m sure what you expect as well because I often compared it afterwards as the equivalent of a county home. The young people here won’t understand what I’m saying when I’m saying a county home but when I was a child growing up every county had a hospital where all the poor ‘oul social misfits and all the broken people and all the poor people ended up. My mother used to say, you know, I’ll end up in the county home as a result of us, like the children she had, (laughter) or she’d be better off in the county home was another saying she used to have (laughter) and probably she probably would be, she’d probably have more peace of mind there and less responsibility. But anyway older people will know if they ever visited them they’d know, you know, they were very depressing places because you had a lot of broken people and disconnected people and sad people there and I thought after a while I often equated the prison that I entered into in 1968 as the equivalent of the county home. A couple of high profile tough type of criminals but the majority were people who were out of psychiatric hospitals, were winos – at that time we used to call them winos, they were drinking old cheap wine and living like that on the streets. Anyway that was the way it was. There was only 400 adults plus in it and just think today that we’re well over 4,500 without temporary release it would be over 5,000 and the graph is flying up. So you’d have to asking yourself what the hell has gone wrong even though we have made so much progress. My friend says we had the biggest change ever in our generation, that’s a span of about 50 years, when you go back, if you could go back, anyone that’s old enough to go back, you couldn’t disagree with it. Phenomenal change in terms of technology. Remember, we only had a radio at that time, we hadn’t televisions and just imagine what has happened since with technology. Like on Saturday morning, just unbelievable, you’ll be sitting down in your home if you’re interested at 9.30 and you can actually tune in to Ireland playing Australia in New Zealand, live as it happens. Now if I told my grandparents that, that had happened, they’d say ‘you’re cracked’ or they just say ‘we now know it for certain you’re gone mad’. But anyway that will just tell you, and travel is fantastic, it took people months to go to America now they can go in a few hours. And so the world became smaller and more information and better education, believe it or not, even though we’ll touch on the education later on but generally speaking far greater education in terms of its availability and more and more people availing of it and a whole lot of different things as well. And I suppose that’s why I’d be saying to you, especially again the younger people, when we are in a bad recession at the moment and we are but it’s relative, it’s relative to what we were used to in the last 10 or 15 years rather than saying we have a recession now that it was the equivalent of the 60s or 40s, there’s not a comparison, the people in the 40s and 50s and go back another 100 years to the famine and then you really had recession and that’s not living in the past it’s just putting it all into perspective. So today while we have a recession and all that things have changed and I suppose that’s interesting in terms of society and the way I suppose it’s been structured as well. We blame the British as you know, when we were growing up the British were blamed for the way our society was structured and then, you know, now we have had our own responsibility for it for many, many years and have we done any better in terms of a fair and equal society? I’d say not, I’d say we actually made it worse in terms of the gap because when I was a child the landlord was regarded as somebody that was imposed on and the big land owners and all those sort of people, well now we have segregation worse than ever in terms of how ... and this is leading to crime because a lot of crime is still ... we’ll concentrate mainly in Dublin city but statistically we’re very weak as well in terms of research would you believe it, there’s very little research being done around monitoring crime and doing sort of social and criminology type of connection with crime or where it comes and all. The last piece of decent work that was done was done in 1996 in Mountjoy by Dr Paul O’Mahony and I tried to get it repeated in 2006 which would have given us a 20 year span and three comparisons to do which would have been very informative and I couldn’t get them to do it, I couldn’t get the Department of Justice to give the money to do it and it was an opportunity missed. But in 1996/97 when it was done the last time, for instance, six little pockets in Dublin supply 75% of all Dublin born prisoners. I’ll just repeat that for you because people won’t often believe it. 75% of people came from six separate little areas, tiny little areas by the way not huge big areas, tiny little areas within six separate postal districts, 75% of all people in Mountjoy in 1996 came from those addresses so we could identify very clearly where these black spots, if you like to call them in terms of crime now, where they were located. And the numbers were very small, the numbers are still very small in terms of the numbers of people who go to prison, very, very small, around 5,000 as I said, 5,000 two or three hundred in total, including temporary release, so when you take that out of a population of 5 million, you know, we’re still a very small system and it still gives us a great opportunity I suppose. There’s a lot of women here as well, just to break it down for women and men as well, the world over this is true, something that you mightn’t have thought about, but the percentage of men versus women in prison is huge, the difference, about 96/97% of the prison population are men or males and about 3/4% are women and that’s by the way generally the world over. So that’s another issue, why is it that there’s so many men? Is it because of their masculinity and their aggression and all that or is it a culture or what the heck is it? But certainly that’s another breakdown so you don’t have a huge concentration of people. And by the way it’s not limited to Dublin it applies in any city in the world, the same old issues apply, poor areas so housing, I just want to leave this with you, that housing policy is at the core of a lot of it. Not everything, because there are people up in Mountjoy that were living in very different circumstances, but 75% were born into areas where there was huge what I would call social disadvantage in terms of amenities and facilities and culture. For me the biggest single factor I suppose and I’ve been arguing this for years and years and years is the culture you’re born into. I just think that that is far more significant than most of realise unless we sort of reflect on it, the culture, the culture you’re grown in. If you’re born in a city, for instance, you inherit quite a sort of an urbanised type of culture. If you’re born in the country it’s completely the opposite, you have a very rural culture. And then so on, and within Dublin itself there’s different cultures in different areas. In affluent areas the culture is all about getting on well, going to third level education, getting high qualifications, getting big money and living a high lifestyle. My daughter one time said to me “But dad there’s difficulties in affluent areas as well” and she was pointing out some of them, she said “For instance, there’s many of them have eating disorders because they want to stay nice and slim so they can fit the profile, the expectation”. Money, they get disillusioned when they’re not getting 50K to start off in a job because their expectations are so high. So it’s not that affluent areas don’t have their difficulties, they do, but I suppose the contrast is amazing, the difference, the ambition of people. You know, one person’s ambition is to become the Chief Justice, another person’s ambition is simply to be able to get a job in the local shop and to get the job in the local shop would be a massive achievement and I suppose that’s the difference in expectation and in terms of education because I think it’s very important just to mention some of the other things that can be tackled should be tackled. Education, for instance, about 50% of all prisoners in the middle 2000s, about 6 or 7 years ago when the survey was done nationally, 50% were in level one or pre-level one in terms of literacy and numeracy. In other words 50% on average of all prisoners from 16 years upwards either were in pre-level one which was lower than the normal measurement that’s done for numeracy and literacy in ordinary life, they had to introduce a pre-level one because so many were so low and level one is very basic, you can barely read and write now, I’m talking about barely. You could read maybe the main headlines on a paper and it would be very basic stuff. So 50% of people were in that and only 6% in 1997 of all prisoners in Mountjoy stayed on at school after 16 years of age. And 57% were gone out of education before 15. So there’s a clear link, if you leave school early it doesn’t mean you’re going to end up in Mountjoy because that would be very unfair to thousands of people who left school at 15. The majority of people who leave school don’t end up in prison but it is an early indicator, leaving education at a very young age is an indicator. I would be putting a red flag up in areas where they’ve high levels of early school leavers simply saying that we need to watch out for those areas because there’s certainly the signs of ... so education is at the very core of it.
Unemployment, about 88% of people in prison are unemployed before they came into prison. That’s massive. So you’ve poor education and then you have poor employment skills or poor employment experience so you’re at a massive disadvantage as well as the whole culture which is negative. What does negative culture do? Negative culture really says that if you get up in the morning to go to school or go to work a lot of people, your peers, a lot of your neighbours, would say ‘what the hell are you doing? Stay in bed’ or ‘Who do you think you are?’ or if you go back to second level education to try to reinvent yourself the pressure will be ‘Who the hell do you think you are? You’re getting too big for yourself Miss’ because what they know is that once you get educated and get informed what do you do? You change your lifestyle and people don’t want you to do that so instead of encouraging you they actually drag you back down again, the culture does. So that’s the sort of basics of it and then I suppose I said I’d mention drugs because very closely associated with drugs is criminality and criminality is so much associated with drugs. Now which comes first I don’t know, I want to be honest, I don’t know. Does criminality come first or does drugs come first? In my view I’d say it is a bit of an overlap. And in drugs I also include alcohol by the way because alcohol is still a massive contributor to all sorts of difficulties in terms of violence and aggression in particular. So addiction is a massive contributing factor and where it comes from. In many areas it is a contributor, it shows us its ugly head because it relieves people from the pain they’re in, in the lifestyles that they set, because that’s what drugs does. Or at least they sell you that. Anyone that knows anything about addiction and drugs will know that the old smiley face on the old ecstasy tablet isn’t there for fun. The idea of putting the happy face on that tablet is to say if you take me I’ll make you happy and of course he will for a couple of seconds or a half an hour or 2 hours and then of course it wears off and you were never as bad in terms of your mental and physical and emotional wellbeing. You’re sick and you want more and more and more. And I did say and I do say yet I never came across what I would call a happy contented drug addicted person yet. (laughter) No, because if they’re high on drugs they’re out of this world anyway and they don’t know where they are or they don’t care so they’re in a false world even though they feel in some way cut off from the mainstream but they’re in a false world or they’re not connected to the reality. And when they haven’t drugs they’re sick and they’re longing for drugs and they’re aggressive and they’re depressed so ... and there’s no in between, that’s the way it is. So they’re all the time looking for something, to get drugs, and when they get the drugs they’re all the time stoned out of their mind. So anybody that tries to sell me the idea that drugs are brilliant and they do great ... I’m talking about like heroin and cocaine and heavy drugs. And naturally enough they’re ... and people from the inner city here will know that way back in the late 70s heroin showed us its ugly head for the first time in the inner city part of Dublin in the poorest and most socially disadvantaged areas and I often ask the question why is it that in every city in the world the place where drugs are most prominent, certainly the history of them was in the most disadvantaged areas. Were they because people were very, very vulnerable or were they exploitable or whatever? But that’s what happened. And by the way Irish society and Dublin society ignored it until it became a crisis out on the main streets but while they were in their own little areas nobody took any great notice. And the people like the late Tony Gregory gave a lifetime raising that and challenging saying ‘Why the hell are you allowing this to happen in our little localities when in actual fact ....’ and it was only actually when it began to spread.
Then of course with the Celtic Tiger era and will all the money drugs became far more widespread in every community and every social class. And so the yuppies who had plenty of money and high profile lifestyles they used things like cocaine on the weekends to give them that little extra buzz and to give them greater energy. So instead of money reducing the demand on drugs it actually increased the usage of drugs right across the social levels and right from urban Ireland to rural Ireland as well by the way. It’s not just Dublin, everywhere in Ireland today they have a drug problem, believe it or not, in the smallest little village they have a drug problem. There’s drugs seeping into those little localities and a lot of people are using them. So that gives you sort of a history too. So drugs are a huge contributing factor and then of course nowadays we have the consequences in the drug areas where you have the gangs, because most of the gangs are directly associated with drugs, for two reasons, either controlling the areas in terms of the industry that drug sees, a massive industry in terms of making money. Controlling patches or else people that owe money. We could talk a lot about drugs, we won’t talk too much about it except people get interested later on, but I mean it is itself it’s a subject that needs an awful lot of teasing out and discussion because the dynamics are unbelievable in terms of what happens to people and how people become totally and utterly dependent on drugs and then become totally vulnerable in terms of being used to sell drugs, to supply drugs, to hold onto drugs or whatever. Once you get compromised well you’re vulnerable and if you’re compromised you will be used and the one thing you can’t do is go to the police in case anyone might say ‘well why don’t they go to the guards’, well in that culture the worst crime you can commit is giving information to the guards would you believe. That’s the worst crime. It’s actually more acceptable to kill somebody than it is to give information. And that is an amazing ... but it’s a true statement. So the last thing you can do is go to the police even though ... and this has nothing in the world got to do with criticism of the police, it’s nothing got to do with the police in that sense, but it’s just a culture, you don’t give information. So if you don’t give information how do you protect yourself? Well you don’t protect yourself you’re just vulnerable.
So you can imagine, now of course I keep saying these are the sort of challenges, you can imagine what it’s like for little children to be born into those areas. I always start at that position and say look this is where it starts, little children born into this culture, growing up in this environment, how the hell do we expect them to turn out anyway different than what they do? Sure the culture is so powerful and the influence are so powerful that it’s so, so difficult and the miracle I suppose is and this needs to be recorded today as well, for me to say it, is that families and individual parents often but families often survive that believe it or not and come out at the other end and never get into difficulty. And they’re the real heroes. Imagine the struggle for a mother in some of those areas, every day trying to ... and I particularly mention mothers because they genuinely and normally look after children in that sense. Imagine trying to mind children in that environment and bring them through? And in some cases they have brought them through and brought them out at the other end which is almost a miracle and deserves great credit for endurance and commitment and stability and all that.
I suppose I should mention as well about our own makeup because we’re very good sometimes, I think anyway, at looking at other people and sort of pointing the finger and saying ‘Look at me’, even fellas often say to me ‘Look I was born poor and I didn’t rob’ and I always say to them “Jesus you were great (laughter) we’ll put a statue up for you” (laughter) because listen when I mention disadvantaged areas some people who live in those areas sort of take it almost that it is offensive, I don’t mean any offence to people at all, but what I’m saying is that the environment and the infrastructure and the amenities are absolutely almost non-existent. And you go to other parts of Dublin city and you see the amenities that are there, swimming pools, playing pitches, second level colleges, third level colleges, housing –wonderful housing estates – I’d say how the hell do we expect children born in some of the more socially disadvantages areas to compete with children at that level? And I’m afraid money as well, I’m afraid I have to say that money is also a major contributing factor and a major influence. If you have money ... I know myself because my daughters are grown up and they’re adults now in their 30s but when they growing up as teenagers especially at second level, you know, and every parent that’s here knows this that if you wanted them to develop to their potential going back to if it was music or art or sport or whatever it all costs money, it costs us a lot of money. And in things like music and talents like that if you hadn’t the resources I’m afraid a lot of the talent would lay dormant and would never be produced and I suppose that was one of the frustrations that I found in Mountjoy and often spoke about that, the talent that was up in Mountjoy, there is wonderful talent there. So you should never associate criminality with a lack of talent or people who are in prison or in poor areas with a lack of ability or talent, it’s the lack of opportunity that is the key factor not the talent. And one of the saddest things of all would be and one of the most I suppose inspiring things and gratifying things of all would be for somebody, a teacher or a social worker or a chaplain or somebody, a member of staff, to meet somebody in a prison, discover what that talent is, help that person to access to something that will enable him or her to develop that talent and change their lives. And that happens often. Change their lives, simply because now that they became aware of their talent and now because they got the opportunity to develop the talent it changed their attitudes, their self esteem and their ability to move away.
What’s the biggest factor I’d say in prison? I’d say the biggest factor in prison would be low self-esteem. If you said to me what is the biggest single factor that you’ll find right across almost the entire prison population? I’d say low self-esteem. Very little confidence. Very little belief in themselves and very little sort of drive and energy and I suppose commitment to be able to make that transition. It is alright talking about it, it is easy to tell people what to do, but to get them to be able to sustain it in terms of the discipline that’s required and the commitment and I’m afraid opportunity as well. I keep saying always I mean in my life and in everyone else’s life, every single person here, young and old, it doesn’t matter what age you are, what country you come from, it doesn’t matter one thing, the one thing I’m certain of that every human being is totally dependent in their lives to other people. There’s not a person I ever met anywhere in the world that was able to stand up and say ‘Well from day one I made it on my own’, there’s nobody. And so we are all dependent on others, our parents, our neighbours, our teachers, our employers, our friends, our wives or husbands later on and a whole multitude and life’s doors of opportunity often open by chance rather than by design and everybody here has experienced that. The day you’re somewhere by pure chance. I remember Brian Farrell, Professor Brian Farrell who was on Prime Time and Seven Days on RTÉ for many, many years and became very famous as a broadcaster but he was born in England. And I remember him when he retired being interviewed and they said how did you come, where you became, and he said “Listen every single change in my life happened by pure chance.” He was born in England by chance. He came back to Ireland by chance. He went to UCD by chance. When he was in UCD as a part-time student he met somebody who said “Listen would you not be interested in broadcasting?” and “Here’s someone you should write to” and he did and they gave him a little bit of a start and then all ... and so life is very much like that I would say. And the same is true the other way round, that circumstances can often dictate, and that’s not an excuse by the way in case anyone might be say you’re only making excuses for people. I’m not making excuses though but what I’m saying is the reality can be that chance and opportunity is twofold and in some cases doors open for people and in other cases they don’t.
Just prison then for a few minutes because people know nothing about it, thank God. 99% of people know nothing about prison, thank God. I always say to parents in particular when I’m talking to parents one of the toughest jobs and challenges any parent will ever get in their life is having to go to a prison to visit a son or a daughter and the more you’re removed from that environment over the years, if you have never been to a prison, if you have never been in a court, if you have never any connection, the worse it is. The most traumatic. And I often give the example about how the culture that’s created, if I go sometimes to ... I talk a bit in schools, if I got to a middle class school or a working class school or in certain areas in Dublin sometimes the teacher will say to me going in ‘by the way there’s a girl in there or a boy in there whose father is in prison, just that you know’ and of course naturally I will never mention anything about such things in talking to kids in a classroom and they would most definitely not say anything. So I go through the little session and they’d leave and that was the end of it. But when I got to certain areas of this city, I’m not going to mention any of them now because I regard them as absolutely vital areas, they’re great areas and there’s some wonderful people there, but when I go into the secondary school in some of those areas I’m not inside the door in the classroom when there’s five or six young lads up around me saying “Do you know me dad? Do you know me ...?” (laughter) and while that’s funny, and you know it is funny, it’s also very sad because what it tells you is that in my culture going up to Mountjoy is normal. And I often say that so many times, you take no notice of this but if you go up to Mountjoy and stand on the North Circular Road today at 2 o’clock I guarantee you you’ll see many little babies being brought up in the arms or in a buggy and up and in through the gate and into the visiting area in Mountjoy and then they’ll be subjected to a dog sniffing at them and a search, including a body search where their mums might be asked to take off their nappies even, and they’re brought in through all this system into prison to meet dad who is not now allowed even to hold a baby so ... and this is all done in the name of humanity and justice and all that sort of stuff. And imagine you’re doing that from the age of 4 or 5 weeks or days. Because I met a baby going in one day that was only 3 days old. So if you’re doing that for 5 or 6 years can you imagine what fear prison has for you? None. None. Sure this is where I go on my outing every day. And they’re the human challenges. That’s nothing got to do by the way with making excuses for the adults who get into crime, that’s a separate issue, they must be dealt with separately and the penalties must be separate. But the dilemma is how do you compensate for the child? And how do you try to keep that relationship going in a very difficult environment.
So prison, for me anyway, is the worst thing that can happen to you after health. If I had a choice tomorrow morning, I often say this, if someone gave me a choice tomorrow morning a very serious illness, for instance like cancer, and treatment in the Mater Hospital, or 5 years in Mountjoy. I’d opt for 5 years in Mountjoy, honestly I would. Why? Because I’d say I’ll come out of Mountjoy. I’ll survive it and I have my health and in 5 years time I’ll be back again on my feet. I mightn’t survive the Mater Hospital and serious cancer or any other serious health disease. So I’m just saying you have to put into perspective. That would be my perspective, health first, I’d hold onto my health first, and after that I’d say the worst experience for any human being is to be sent to prison. So any idea that people have that this is some sort of an old holiday resort or some sort of a good time, and just because fellas come out of prison and say ‘Ah Jesus it was grand’ you see that’s a reflection on their standards, their ambitions, where they’re at. Anyone who says to me well they’re better off in prison that they are outside, I say well that’s a sadder reflection of what’s outside than what’s inside because I can assure you that inside is horrible. Even in the most modern prisons it’s still terrible but in the older prisons like Mountjoy it’s horrific. And that’s it, that’s honest, it’s horrific. And it was bad enough when I started off in Mountjoy which as Padraic mentioned I started off there in 1984 and I spent over 20 years there despite the fact that I spent a few years in Portlaoise. But at least when I started off there was about 420 on a daily average and would you believe that in 1985 and 86 I was writing to the Department of Justice giving out about the numbers. Honest to God, at 425, this is grossly overcrowded and something has to be done, 1985. And then I ended up with 880 then – 880 – double the population and I was still writing, this is a scandal.
So I suppose in some ways, this is the amazing thing, things changed in my time in prison, some things changed brilliantly I have to say, I’m delighted to say it, some things improved dramatically and other things never changed and other things deteriorated. What are the things that deteriorated more? And Liam Herrick is here from the Irish Penal Reform Trust and he has been advocating and arguing in public streets on this issue for a long time now, but the worst issue that has happened is overcrowding in terms of doubling up. And most people here have no idea about what the consequences of doubling up are and you hear people like me and Liam and others talking about doubling up and you say ah it’s too good for them, ah what the hell do they expect, like a former Minister said, after all he said they’re prisoners, the cheek of you. If we don’t have some basic measurement, some basic standards even for prisoners I would say well then we’ve lost it, we must have basic standards. But anyway just to say in terms of doubling up, I guess none of you have ever thought about this I could absolutely be certain of this every single person here young and old needs time on their own. I bet you do. I bet you every day you spend some amount of time exclusively on your own. It might be in the kitchen, it might be in your bedroom, it might be out in the garden, I don’t care where it is (laughter) but I’ll guarantee you you’re somewhere every day on your own. And our mother used to say, “Get out, I want a bit of peace” and we’d be all ran out into the garden or out to the field and she’d be pottering around the house but she needed space. Every single human being needs space on their own, to get the hell out of ... and if you’re in the prison and you’re doubled up in prison you’ll never spend a second on your own. Isn’t that terrible? Or unbelievable rather than maybe terrible because some people might say it was too good for them. But being on your own, you’re never, you’ll spend about 16 hours a day locked up in the cell and you’ve someone with you and maybe two or three people with you. And maybe a header with you, a guy that’s quite crazy. (laughter) Seriously - quite crazy. Imagine sharing your cell with somebody that never stops talking. (laughter) Just think about that. 10 o’clock at night and he’s (makes a noise) and you’re trying to sleep. Or you’re in a cell with someone who is bullying you, a big strong fella and he’s telling you, shush, give me all your cigarettes, give me all your – whatever it is you have – chocolate, give me everything you have. But do you know what I said about giving information? You can’t give information? Why can’t you give information? Because now you are absolutely totally persona non grata, you’re not accepted at all, so you have to try and put up with it. But the biggest single thing, suppose you’re sharing with someone and they’re snoring all night. I’m talking about 5 or 6 or 7 years of this now, this isn’t just something that will just go away. So doubling up anyway has been an absolute disaster and would you believe that the old Brits in the middle 1900s brought in a piece of legislation that said every prisoner should be in a single cell and those who need communal sort of cells because some people who were psychiatrically ill might need somebody they had to be three, in what were called triple cells. So the cells were huge and there was three beds in them and they were ... and if you put ... in my day when I was a young lad down in Limerick if I put two prisoners into a cell and shut the door I’d be sacked, it was that serious. You never put two prisoners in a cell. You always put one or three. The three idea was that they’ll protect each other, there’d be no abuse and no bullying, the chances would be that one would protect the other or that sort of stuff. Keep an eye out for them. So they spend about ... so doubling up is the worst thing.
Drugs, the greatest scourge that ever happened Ireland I think. I’m always saying I’ve been convinced that anything else that happened, even the bloody recession, I’d say no I’d say drugs when you think about it in the last 30 years or so, what the damage they have done and the devastation they have brought to people, the human suffering, not just to individual people who are addicted but to everybody in their family and to everybody often in their community as well. So it’s not confined to just the person who is addicted, can you imagine what it’s like to have a young person addicted to heroin, for instance, every time they leave the door if you’re their parent, for instance, or brother or sister, what are you? You’re terrified. He’ll be caught, he’ll be arrested, he’ll be shot, he’ll come home stoned, he’ll die of an overdose or whatever. And the consequence of what drugs have done are huge I’d say and I’m not so sure what sort of a handle we have on it yet in terms of that.
The other good things that happened in prison I suppose is education, why in some prisons it’s far better than others, because of facilities by the way rather than because of lack of teaching. That’s the one thing I could never say in Mountjoy there was never any difficulty with teachers, we got as many teachers as we could accommodate. Our problem in Mountjoy was we couldn’t accommodate, only facilities for about 40 prisoners or 45 at any one time out of 600 or 700. So that puts it into perspective. But it wasn’t because we couldn’t get the teachers it was simply because we couldn’t facilitate. But the work they do is immense considering the limitations on their resource because education must be at the very foundation of solutions, I think. That if you don’t educate ... because it’s not just simply about work by the way, because we think sometimes that it’s just about work, but education is so important right across life’s spectrum, it’s not just work. Imagine if you illiterate or you’re only at 50% and your little child is going to school and the little child comes home with his little first year book, you can’t read it, imagine that? You just can’t sit down with your own little child and read and that’s not confined to prisoners, but I’m talking about prisoners rather than the broader thrust of society. So education is vital in terms of knowledge, access, ability, confidence – so there’s a million and one benefits come out of education including an extra to just getting jobs. And by the way as well one of the lowest motivated people are ... and this is true in life as well as in prison, the lowest motivated people in prison in relation to education are those who have the lowest levels of education, it is. People who go into prison who have no education or poorly educated are the very ones that have no motivation and vice and versa, if you go into prison and you have already a degree and you’re going to spend 5 years in prison what do you do? Well I’d be doing a degree that I’d loved to have done, whatever a degree, I’ll learn Spanish and do a degree in Social Science or something, and you would, and you’d get it. Why? Because you have the ability, the motivation and you’d say well now while I’m in prison I must ... I know a neighbour of mine ended up in prison a few years ago, 4 or 5 years ago, I knew him very well. He ended up in prison. And he was very high profile in terms of job; he had a very powerful job, very well educated. What did he do when he was in prison? He did a degree in Spanish and he got his degree in Spanish. And why? Because he said listen while I’m here I might as well do something and he came out of prison and he had a degree and he’s able to speak fluent Spanish. I’m just making that point, that if he went into prison illiterate I’d say you can almost guarantee he’d come out ... so some of the jobs or challenges around motivating people. The same with addiction would you believe. Because everybody says why don’t you treat them as if was a simple little problem or a simple task of just walking around giving everyone an injection or something and saying now that will ... of course the biggest problem with addiction is, you know, accepting that you’re addicted, recognising that you’re addicted and motivating yourself to do something about your addiction and that’s where prison found it very difficult and is still finding it very difficult because quite a huge, biggest percentage of people who are addicted their first stage is total denial. You meet them, you talk to them, you say listen you’ll have difficulty with your addiction, what, I’ve no addiction, I can give it up anytime I like, I only take it when I’m outside. Of course they are addicted but they’re in denial and it is no use I telling you that you’ve a problem. That’s useless. The only stage of recovery is when you tell me you’ve a problem. I’ve a problem can you help me and of course then ... now the struggle in prison is that when a person comes to that decision the help isn’t always available for them and therefore another opportunity is lost because in Mountjoy alone if you were to respond to the needs of everybody there about 500 I’d say of the 700 have a history of addiction at some level or other. Some would be very serious. You can imagine the facilities that would be required to respond to that number of people who would be at all different levels. But 250 or 260 in my time in Mountjoy were on methadone on a daily basis. 250 on a daily basis getting methadone as a substitute for heroin so that was massive.
And of course the last disaster in Mountjoy would have been that they hadn’t and had not up to and probably won’t have for a while to come yet, internal sanitation. So they still have pots. They’re still slopping out. There’s still all that humiliation of people. A lack of washing facilities and cleaning facilities and hygiene very low because of the old building. Mountjoy by the way was built in 1850, opened on the 8th of March 1850, which is 161 years ago since last March. And is probably one of if not the only institution in Dublin that’s still operating to full capacity and the same basis as they did in 1850 which is amazing. Because the main block in Mountjoy is exactly the same today as it was way back in 1850. So the facilities are very ... so, for instance, there was no education facilities built into Mountjoy, there was no work facilities would you believe, because they all stayed in their cells apparently, 22 or 23 hours a day in those days. They did work in their cells so they seldom came out of their cells. Even at mass on a Sunday they were in cubicles so they never met, so each person sat into a cubicle so as that they couldn’t speak or see each other. So prison was designed in 1850 for separation and segregation and all that sort of stuff. The idea ... Crofton was a very famous ‘prison reformer’ and his policy was that you’d sort of beat the bad out of them first, you know, and you’d punish the bad out of them and then when all their badness is going, it’s something like our education when we were kids (laughter), seriously, that was very much the policy of our education system. We were beaten when we did things wrong, physically beaten, and we were beaten when we didn’t do things right, like with spellings for instance. So their philosophy was the same, that you beat the bad out of them. I would obviously argue totally against that and say that I’m totally opposed to the concept that punishment works in that sense. You have to have some strictures and rules and penalties in line, of course you have, you have to have law and order, oh of course you have. But personally I don’t believe that you can punish a person into doing good. No I believe that the task is quite different and more complex than that and I think some of my experiences in prison would prove that as well, that people do respond to different things. And indeed a lot of it, my own philosophy, was based on – and I still argue that philosophy anyway but – it was about that thing I said about finding the potential in people and by the way I absolutely believe 100% that there’s potential in every human being to do good and bad. Potential now, I’m not saying people do bad but there’s the potential to do bad in everybody and there’s also the potential to do good. And in prison, in my time anyway, I certainly found that most prisoners wanted to do good, that’s a difference now from doing good, but they wanted to do good, their aspiration, and they got great satisfaction. And the proof of that was, for instance, at times like the Special Olympics when they worked their backsides off day and night to make flags and to do different things in order that they could contribute to the Special Olympics and they felt great when they saw their flags down in Croke Park – 80,000 of them made by hand. And that’s what I mean, or when they raise money for charity or whatever they do, you know, they felt because I’m helping someone so I believe that that’s how you change people, that you build and nurture the humanity in them, the talent in them, the good in them and the higher and the more you’re making them aware of their own humanity the less likely they are to be inhumane to others. That’s my philosophy but lots of people disagree with that.
Listen that’s enough of my old rubbish (laughter) because a lot of people here obviously want to maybe ask questions or say things or whatever and by the way I’m not the slightest bit defensive about the system. If people have criticism or whatever they want to say feel free to do so because I’m not going to defend anything. I’ve always believed actually from way back, the mid 80s onwards, and I said this in the mid 80s, prisons belong to you, not you personally I think society. Prisons are there for you, you own them, your responsible for it in that global sense and they are yours, they’re not mine or weren’t mine or they’re not belong to the Minster or they’re not belong to the staff in our job and prisoners come from society, 99.99% of them come from Irish society in some shape or form. I mean people living in Ireland, they come from your streets, they came through your school, they came from your communities, whoever they are, and they end up in prison and when they leave prison they go back out into your society, your community, your area and that’s why I have always said that people working in prison or managing prisons should never feel that they were failures. They’re not failures, they belong to society, and that’s why I was highly motivated all my life anyway to try to open prisons up as much as possible to the public and we did that quite a lot with school tours, with open nights for drama, for a whole lot of different professionals like legal students and ordinary students and all sorts of people. We tried to bring in as many as we could into Mountjoy simply to do that, to say to them this is what a prison is, it’s your prison, if you want to improve it that’s fine but at least you’ll know what it’s like. And that’s why I did that because I believe that it’s very important that people know exactly what happens in prisons. Prisons exist in your name and they are ours. They’re an Irish institution funded by the Irish tax payer for a service that the Irish tax payer believe that they need and in that case then the ownership of them should be the broader community as well. Anyway belt away any of you that have questions or criticisms or whatever.
Questions and Answers
John: Yeah go on?
Participant 1: Do you miss working in Mountjoy?
John: Oh God not a bit, no. (laughter) And I should clarify that now because honestly now, honestly, and this is the truth, I spent 42 years and a bit in the penal service and I spent over 26 years as the Governor of Mountjoy or Portlaoise and I can honestly say I never, ever, ever woke up any morning and said “Jesus do I have to go in there?” I enjoyed it as a challenge and I enjoyed the work and I enjoyed the relationship and I got great education in prison. The greatest education I got in my life was definitely in prison, way, way more than anyone else and that includes my family. And anyone that rears children, for instance, and rearing their own family will know how educational that is. But I would have to say and do say generously that I got my greatest education in prison and my greatest satisfaction in life in prison as well. But the time comes and I decided in 2009, that 2010, 26 years was enough of it. I was also coming on. I was 63 years of age at the time and I said, right, I have to retire at 65 so there’s no point in waiting until they throw you out (laughter) so I had my mind made up in 2009 that I was going in 2010 and I did. And I can honestly say that I never regretted a moment of it. So I’ve nothing but good memories, not happy memories because I think it would be a bit of a contradiction to say that, you know, prison and what goes on in prison could make you happy, but I suppose the happy or the fulfilment I would have gotten was trying to do something in whatever way I could for the people who end up in prison and their families. Because I met some fantastic people, mothers and fathers, mainly mothers by the way, by and large now I’d say 85-90% of visitors to prisons are either mothers or siblings. The rest are made up of others but mothers in particular go to prison all the time and grandmothers in many of these areas that I talked about, those six areas, grandmothers are now going up to Mountjoy to visit their grandchildren because their own children are dead as a result of drugs and that’s bigger than you think. And it is very sad to meet a grandmother going back in after coming up 25 years ago with her own children and now she’s going back in to visit her grandchildren who are carrying on the same old traditions. And by the way I was into, by the time I left Mountjoy, in many individual cases I’m into the third generation of families going to prison – grandparents, parents and their children. And not a regular basis but on a frequent basis enough, a father and a son or a mother and a daughter could be in prison at the one time and that’s terrible sad. Yeah?
Participant 2: Is there someone carrying on your terrific work in Mountjoy?
John: Well first of all I wouldn’t dream of saying it was terrific work. I suppose I had my own ideas and my own beliefs and my own philosophy that most people didn’t agree with by the way, so I’d have to record that first all, that it was very much my own in that sense and I suppose I discovered that early on in my career as well that if you didn’t do your own thing you’d do nothing because nobody would come down and tell you what to do or show you what to do or ... they’d knock you and criticise you but they wouldn’t innovate anything. So from my perspective I suppose I had a philosophy based on what I said and that’s what I tried to do in the main. And as I said that wouldn’t be very popular but I mean I suppose the prisoners in particular and their families would respond to it maybe more so than the establishment, that they saw it as a humane approach. But anyone listen the ‘oul book is here because I might forget it. I just want to give you a laugh. Because the ‘oul book came out last ... and it’s not promoting the book, Jesus don’t think I’m trying to promote my book. (laughter) I couldn’t care less if the ‘oul book is ever sold. (laughter) But listen to me, the ‘oul book came out last October anyway, almost 12 months ago. And a couple of days or weeks after it being published it was one of the chaplains in Mountjoy and she was down town one day, close enough to here, down to Chapters the big book shop, and she was going to buy the book. So she went in anyway to Chapters and she was going around and she couldn’t see the book so she asked one of the floor staff, she said “By the way where is Lonergan’s book” and he said “Ask your man behind the desk” so she said “Well what is it behind the desk for?”, “Oh he said “Thieving, thieving, they’re all robbing it.” (laughter) So all my friends from Mountjoy were coming in taking the book but not paying for it. (laughter) So when I meet them, I often meet them on the street nowadays, “I read your book” and I always say to them “I hope you paid for it.” (laughter)
John: Sorry dear?
Participant 3: Would not run for President?
John: Ah here now, here. (laughter) Hold on now. (laughter) The country is a bad state. (laughs) Yeah grand?
Participant 4: Can I just ask you ...
Participant 4: ... what percentage of the people in Mountjoy ever got to get education? Was that ... you said you couldn’t get enough teachers but the people that did go for education was that by their own choice or were they encouraged or how was it decided what people got to get it?
John: Yeah, yeah, to get it. Yeah first of all education is delivered in prison by the local VECs in this case Dublin City, brilliant by the way, I must record that, Dublin City, and all the VECs are very generous and very supportive and have been for over 35 years in relation to providing education. They promote and deliver an adult education philosophy in their teaching which is that it is always voluntary and that it’s done on the basis that people want to go, so it is always voluntary. In terms of who goes I suppose people show interest and people encourage it, like chaplains or prison staff or whoever it would be in some cases. We had a fantastic project going in Mountjoy at one stage called the Connect Project which would have been a very progressive project where the first stage where 12 or 14 guys would sit down with a facilitator for about 6 weeks and look at their lives and look at their ambitions and set goals for themselves and then go with a monitor to monitor them and a lot of them will have said “I can’t read or write” and so step one would be to go for literacy and numeracy, basic education services. So some of them go as I said because they’re highly motivated, because they are aware of education, and some go genuinely because they want to better themselves. But generally speaking those who go to education, generally now speaking, are the ones that are less likely ever to come back again. Why? Because we can see already that they’re motivated, that they want to do something. The problem as I keep saying, it’s one of the greatest problems, is to try to motivate people. See a lot of people just simply say look I’ve never got anything, I never achieve anything, I never will. There’s a little ... not too far from here ... I won’t name the area but, sorry, I have to name the area sorry, Jesus, I can’t tell you what he wrote up in Shanganagh but it is so long ago now it doesn’t matter. But we had dormers in Shanganagh way back but it was open, by the way now that’s closed which was a desperate backward step because it had fantastic potential, an open centre for ... we have no open centre for juveniles in Ireland which is unbelievable and we have 260 or whatever it is up in St. Pat’s. We have no open centre for them and the idea of an open centre was you took them out of that criminal environment and put them into a more caring progressive environment. But anyway, there was a young lad and they were all in dormitories and he wrote up on the side of his dormitory, way back – this is way back in the early 70s, ‘My name is Mousey O’Brien and I come from the Hill, never worked and never will’. And I have never forgot that simply because I said Jesus if you believe that at 16 years of age my God where’s the hope for you? But that was the culture and that was the way he was ... so education. Then in other prisons they have far greater ... like in the more modern prisons, they have far greater facilities and far greater opportunities and quite a significant number of prisoners would take on different types of education, some a very academic type education but not exclusively, they learn computers, they do art, they do a lot of different ... maybe I should say myself from my own experience I suppose the creative arts would be the one thing that maybe every prisoner would have a great interest in and many of them have a great capacity as well. So artwork, drama, music – all that sort of stuff – great interest and great creativity and whether that’s a compensation for other things that they miss in life, I don’t know, but one of the things, their characteristics, would be that quite a number of people from those areas would have a background, social background, would have been very creative as people. Some of the stuff they’ve made and created with their hands would be unbelievable, the detail and the creativity and the innovation. So and that’s why I keep saying to people that the perception might be that they’re stupid or something, these people are not stupid. I mean they are very, very intelligent, capable people and where you’re able to direct their energies and their abilities in another direction they would be very successful so. And by the way as well, contrary to what people think, quite a significant number of people never go back to prison. But if you asked anybody what’s the recidivist rate, that’s what they call people going back to prison, it’s about 80% but you see that’s very misleading because there’s huge numbers of people that go back to prison all their lives, they never leave, and the cut off point ... if you’re from a disadvantaged area in the normal sort of criminal culture you’ll probably go to prison, if you go, in your middle to late teens or special institutions and you’ll continue till your early 30s and then almost dramatically 90% of them disappear. So they spend all their latter teens and most of their 20s in and out of prison and then they just stop. Now is that because they grow up? Is it because they form relationships? Is it because they have children of their own? Is it they get tired of prison? Is it they’re not caught again? Because you see these sort of statistic are very misleading because I mean a person could be still robbing away, for instance, at his heart’s content and not be caught and people would be saying ‘ah he’s never robbed since’. So the statistics, the research, I suppose I’d be saying myself and again Liam would be advocating again we’re very weak on research. We don’t have enough of ... and why don’t we? Because Government don’t want research because in groups like the Irish Penal Reform Trust and people who do make referencing the more information you have, the more statistics you have, the more research you have, the stronger your voice is because you can go in and say look this is what’s happening. The Government aren’t stupid and bureaucracy isn’t stupid and they say right, give them that ammunition sure they’ll come in and they’ll beat you with that ammunition so don’t give them ammunition in the first place and they won’t be able to beat you. So we do need to look at these things a lot more and to identify where the crises are, where the answers are, what works best. There’s no evaluation done in prison on any programmes that are in prisons. No evaluations done, there’s no ... and that was one great part of the Connect Project there was ongoing evaluation even by an outside agency, the National Training Agency. So they were monitoring and measuring is it working? And if it wasn’t working they’d say well that project isn’t working. And that’s what you need really, you need evaluation ongoing to know whether what you’re doing is right or wrong. But I mean prison itself you spend about 16/17 hours a day every day locked up in a cell. That’s the reality.
Participant 5: And Thornton Hall, all the fuss over Thornton Hall and the price of the land and everything else, did you agree with Thornton Hall or was it in the wrong place?
John: Oh God yeah, of course it was. (laughter) I suppose I mean Thornton Hall I suppose from day one almost I suppose it’s 10km, 6 miles, from Finglas Village and there’s no bus service there so I was always arguing myself that if you lived in certain parts of Dublin city, for instance, you have to get a bus and most, 99% of people going to prison have no transport of their own so you have to get a bus, for example, from Ballyfermot into town, get a bus from town up to Finglas and then be above in Finglas waiting for someone to collect you, maybe an old van or something, to bring you 6 more miles out into the middle of the country, have your visit maybe with two or three little children, the visit is over, get back again to Finglas, wait for the bus into town and get the bus back home. I’d say it would be the best part of a day’s work. You could imagine trying to do that with two or three little children.
Participant 5: So there was no consultation at all?
John: None whatsoever no, none whatsoever and which is another ... not amazing thing but another sad reality. The areas where most of the prisoners come from, the communities there, there are fantastic communities in some of those areas, wonderful work being done for people who leave prison and for the families of prisoners, children, while they’re in prison, and no consultation good, bad or indifferent with those communities even. No information sharing. And so that just doesn’t happen that sort of prospect that you’re talking about, asking people where would a good location be. And finally then myself I’m a great old advocate myself of having prisons in the public eye. I’m a great believer of that. You’re walking down the North Circular Road at the moment on the right hand side Out-Patients, the Mater Hospital, sick people, on the left hand side Mountjoy Prison, St. Patrick’s Institution, the Women’s Prisons, it reminds people that we have prisoners. That there’s people in there who are prisoners, their ours, they may have offended us but they’re ours and it keeps them in your mind. If they’re out in the middle of nowhere like in England now where you have big ... and the first thing they did with Thornton Hall was they ordered hundreds and hundreds of trees to plant all around the periphery, which they are by the way, and the idea is that they’ll grow and then nobody will ever know there’s a prison there. And I would say out of sight out of mind. I think it’s very important that all of us from time to time are reminded that there are such things, such people, as prisoners, they are our people and it is in our interests that we see them. Because finally I suppose I should make this point to you because you might say ‘well he’s all about prisoners’, well I am because that was my job, because I saw that was my job to look after prisoners, it wasn’t to look after society in a broader context and you’re going say ‘well what about the victim?’. See my philosophy would be that if I could turn the prisoner away from crime I was automatically turning away ... reducing the number of victims, that was my philosophy. The more ... and there’s no contradiction in my mind between looking after victims, supporting victims, being good to victims and also being progressive in prisons. There’s no contradiction. I’d say we should be doing both enthusiastically but we do nothing for victims actually in the country. Nothing. Or very little in terms of support and counselling and therapy for people who are traumatised as a result of crime. My job was to try to change people away from criminality and I always believed that if you could move people away from criminality you were making a massive contribution to reducing victims and the suffering of victims because at the end of the day they are the people who suffer most just in case people don’t think I appreciate them. Well the figures are ... the question is what money, what does it cost to keep a prisoner? It’s falling in the last number of years. Why? Because of overcrowding. Like we have more prisoners in the same space with the same numbers of staff or less staff and actually the cost of prison is falling as a result. Of course the quality of life in prison is reducing as well but the cost is running around 75,000 a year at the moment on average and it’s around 200,000 a year to keep someone in Portlaoise because of the added security. So you’re talking around 75,000 to 80,000 Euro a year to keep somebody in a prison, that’s what it costs. In terms of I suppose ... oh someone one time proposed this wonderful idea that for every Euro you’d spend on a prison the Government should be forced to spend 2 Euro on the outside on prevention and I would be a great supporter of that. I think that if those six areas for instance – and we know where they are and we know the size of them and we know the issues that are in – I honestly believe that if they were really tackling it in a meaningful way through education and through work and through improving the living conditions and the environment I honestly believe that there would be a significant reduction in the numbers going to prison. And I think that while initially people would see like Moyross, the regeneration of Moyross or Ballymun, they’d say oh how can they justify spending so much, hundreds of millions, in these areas. I believe that in 10-15 years time the real value of that will be we’ll be seeing a dramatic reduction in the number of people going to prison. The age? The average age, again, we’re reading up on that because we don’t have ... I can only tell you in 1997 is the last time we had really scientific research done into that and at that stage the average age was 27 but two thirds of them were under 27, if you get me. Because an older person you see, a 70/80 year old, would completely distort the average age in prison because we’d have a smaller number of people in their 80s, mainly sex offenders, in prison and they would distort the average age. But about two thirds were in the bracket of 18 to 27 so it is fundamentally and basically a young person. And prison and crime is a young person’s thing anyway because I mean I see a lot of older men now, they wouldn’t be that old relatively speaking but they’d be in their 50s, but they would have been regulars in Mountjoy. I see quite a lot of them around the city now and they would be, you know, homeless and they’d be drinking wine but they wouldn’t be committing crime anymore or very little crime because they’re too old. They’d say that to you themselves. And a lot of them would meet me on the street and say “Ah Jesus I’m too old now for that” (laughter), they actually realise that they’re too old and they couldn’t hack it. And what drives older fellas crazy in prison is they meet young fellas, because young fellas are full of energy going around and that drives them crazy because they want to relax and have a quiet life and the young lads are all buzzing. And most people in prison would have ... and I suppose I’d often say this as well ... most people in prison would have many, many personal issues and emotional issues, psychological issues, mental issues. 1 in 4, by the way in 1997, had a history of being an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital, 1 in 4. There’s no community anywhere else except a psychiatric hospital where you would have that level of psychiatric illness and 40% had contact with the psychiatric service, so that’s a huge level of psychiatric background difficulties that people had. And then when you’d add on addiction, you know, you can see where between addiction and psychiatric illness we’ve a massive difficulty in terms of the sort of problems that people have. Learning difficulties would be massive as well, often never, ever discovered, you know, serious like dyslexia, behavioural difficulties, ADHD, all these sort of issues would be prevalent in prison population as well. And a lot of it would never have been detected or treated. In some cases they would have been diagnosed but never got the follow-on treatment like counselling and support and the like and quite a number of them would go through education, for instance, through primary and never be discovered that they were dyslexic and maybe years later they discover it and get help and then of course say oh Jesus their lives have changed instantly because now the problem that they had in school was gone. And that’s what we mean by early intervention. I’ll give you a good one, Barnardo’s, I’m on the board of Barnardo’s, I just came from a meeting before in there and Fergus Finley the Chief Executive of Barnardo’s is tired saying it, he said “If you spend on early intervention you’ll save on the consequences often” and no I’d totally agree with him because if you could support families at the very early stages and we now know that from when you’re 3 or 4 years of age it’s an absolutely crucial age, not 15 or 16, 3 or 4 years of age, that’s when the child is really going to make that real significant move in way or the other and so we should be focusing on the disadvantaged areas where there’s a varying lack of resources and facilities. And sometimes I have to say as well parenting skills are often very ... no fault, no criticism of the parents, but they are low on the skills of parenting, well I mean they need that sort of support and help as well. And where it is in Barnardo’s they’re doing wonderful work all around Dublin city and other places and it will be very interesting because they are doing a dilation as they’re going along and it will be very interesting to see in 10 years time, for instance, will that make a huge difference in some of the areas because they are working in the most socially disadvantaged areas. Helping mums, helping families, helping communities from baby, from pregnancy upwards, helping the mums and it’ll be very interesting to see will that make a difference. I believe it will, a significant difference, but we have to wait and see.
Participant 5: Has the education always been available to prisoners and do prisoners have access to facilities like pool tables?
John: No, now well first of all in a place like Mountjoy education isn’t available to all simply because there are no facilities there and 40 people sign up for education, maybe 100 in total would be at some element of education and about 600 wouldn’t and that’s basically because they don’t have the facilities to facilitate it. In relation to activities and things like pool tables in every wing of the prison there’s probably a pool table or a snooker table but there would also be about 150 to 170 prisoners availing of that facility in that area so while you can say they have pool tables the reality is that they might get a game of snooker once a week because there’d be so many people, you know, vying for the one facility. So you have snooker tables and television and things like that but of course the demand for them also has to be linked into the amount of the facilities that are there. The recreation facilities in Mountjoy are diabolical, that’s it in a nutshell. Simply because when the place was built there was no recreation and they didn’t build it with that in mind so anything that’s there now is done on the basis of ad hoc, opening up an old basement area, converting a number of cells into a recreation area, all that sort of stuff. The workshops are not purpose built, they’re just converted cells. So the facilities were never built into the place when they were building it in 1850 and now the room isn’t there to expand, to provide the facilities that you really need. Listen thank you very much anyway you’re very good. (clapping) Thanks Padraic. (recording ends here)
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