Cocooning in Custody: MU criminologists team with Inspector of Prisons on report

Patricia Gilheaney, Inspector of Prisons
Wednesday, July 29, 2020 - 12:00

On Wednesday 29th July 2020, Dr. Ian Marder (Maynooth University Department of Law), Dr. Joe Garrihy (Birmingham City University) and Patricia Gilheaney (Inspector of Prisons) published a new report, entitled: ‘Ameliorating the impact of cocooning on people in custody’. Their report is based on a ground-breaking collaboration between the Office of the Inspector of Prisons and criminologists, which aimed to listen to and document the experiences of people who were cocooning in custody during the lockdown.
The project team distributed journals to the vast majority of people in custody who were cocooned almost immediately upon lockdown because they were aged 70 or older, or because they suffered from an acute underlying health condition. In collaboration with Irish Red Cross volunteers, the team provided journals to 86 people across seven Irish prisons, 49 of which were returned having been written or drawn in.
The report aims to provide insight into how people in custody experienced cocooning. It presents a range of practical suggestions emerging from the project team’s analysis of the data, and from a review of their early findings and ideas at an online stakeholders’ roundtable in late June. The report outlines the findings and recommendations on a number of themes, namely:

  • food;
  • yard time;
  • social connection and staff-prisoner interactions;
  • consistency, communication and feelings of punishment;
  • mental and physical health;
  • purposeful activity;
  • consultation; and,
  • early release.

On the need for the project, the Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, said:
“Effective prison oversight is an essential tool to prevent torture, inhuman and degrading treatment of people in custody. This collaboration with Maynooth University Department of Law was supported by the Irish Prison Service and helped me overcome the challenges inherent in carrying out my oversight functions during the pandemic. Documenting the lived experiences of those cocooning in prisons has helped my Office to report on compliance with Irish and international human rights instruments.”
On the impact of the pandemic and the need for consultation with staff and people in custody, Dr. Ian Marder said:
“The pandemic has had an acute impact on people who were cocooning in prisons, but it has also affected prison staff and everyone else in custody who was not cocooned. What this project shows, and what’s important as we transition away from lockdown, is that the IPS should consult meaningfully with all those who live and work in Irish prisons so that its plans meet their needs as much as possible.”
On the place of prisons in society and the development of prison regimes, Dr. Joe Garrihy said:
“The pandemic has served to remind people that prisons are part of the community. The journals showed that the anxieties we all had around the crisis – fearing for the safety of our families and the impact on wider society – were felt acutely by people in custody. The journals also brought up many issues and challenges on which prison research has long focused, including the importance of dignified treatment, respectful staff-prisoner relationships, communication, human rights, meaningful activity and health services.”
The report can be found on the website of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons here.
The report’s authors published an article on RTE Brainstorm, which can be found here.
An article on the report was also published in the Irish Times and can be found here.
The response of the Irish Prison Service to the report can be found here.