Prisons cannot be seen by society as “mere dumping grounds” for those who deserve no better, the Derry-born leader of the Irish Catholic Church has said.
Archbishop Eamon Martin marked the beginning of Prisons Week by suggesting that our prisons should be places where lives can be changed and turned around for the better.
“Ideally,” he said, “our prisons should be places of redemption, renewal and hope.”
Dr. Martin invited the public to “think in a special way about those who are in our own prisons here in Ireland.”
Acknowledging that prison is society’s way of punishing people for serious wrong doing, he said we should never forget the many victims of crime who have suffered, or give the impression that we excuse these crimes.
However, the Archbishop added that “caring for our prisoners - and about the conditions in which they are being held - is a Christ-like thing to do”.
Dr. Martin said that, when he visits a prison, he always comes away with “a sense of sadness for those who must spend time there, and with regret at the waste of talent and opportunity that prisons represent”.
“In some ways our prisons reflect back to us the problems of society and the shadow side of life which we might prefer to keep out of sight and out of mind,” he added.
He said the problems experienced in society are often experienced even more intensely in prisons; problems such as bullying, intimidation, addiction, isolation and hopelessness.
The Archbishop added that sometimes we forget that prisoners themselves are women and men with families and children who care about them and who miss them.
“It is vital that our prisons are sufficiently well resourced in terms of expertise and services to respond to the many needs that are there,” he said. “Prisons cannot be seen by society as mere ‘dumping grounds’ for those who deserve no better.”
In Northern Ireland, according to Archbishop Martin, aspects of the prison system still reflect the legacy of the troubled and divided past.
Referring to last week’s publication of the Stocktake Report into the prison regime in Maghaberry, he said he believed it offered space and hope for an end to the long running tensions within the prison.
He added that the report’s recommendations offered an opportunity to make further progress in resolving the outstanding issues – and to cooperate in addressing the concerns of prisoners, families and staff – that have led to tension in recent years.