Former Governor of Portlaoise Prison John Lonergan will be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Irish Red Cross, for his contribution to Irish society through his work in Irish prisons which spans four decades.
When John Lonergan walked into his first day of work in Limerick on 8 March 1968, he was embarking on a 42-year-long career in the Irish Prison Service. There were 47 people in Limerick Prison on that first day and 660 across the whole island, compared to 4,000 today.
After three years in Limerick, he moved to Shanganagh Castle in Dublin which was an open detention centre for boys ages between 16 and 21. Following this, Mr Lonergan worked in a number of prisons and institutions including Loughan House in Co Cavan when it accommodated teenagers aged 12-18.
In 1984, he was appointed Governor of Mountjoy Prison and four years after that, in 1988, he was transferred to the high-security jail in Portlaoise which coincided with the Trobles.
He served as Governor of Portlaoise Prison until 1992 when he moved back to Mountjoy, where he again served as Governor until he retired in 2010.
While Governor of Mountjoy, John’s analysis revealed that 75% of Dublin-born prisoners were from six small communities in Dublin city. He was one of the first people to draw the public’s attention to the origins of crime in Ireland, and the connection between criminality and the social, economic and educational circumstances of prisoners and their families: this was a wake-up call for Irish society and Government.
The Irish Red Cross says Mr Lonergan was avant-garde in his rehabilitative approach to managing prisons. The Red Cross says he recognised the importance which mental health and having hope for a better future played in prison life and he set about making the regime more humanitarian for those in prison by enhancing and promoting opportunities for education, training and building self-esteem.
The Red Cross says Mr Lonergan paved the way for many changes in the prison service and was instrumental in lobbying for the development of a new women’s prison, the Dóchas Centre. He also oversaw the development of a prisoner visitor centre at Mountjoy which was later replicated across the country.
The Irish Red Cross Chairman is Pat Carey.
“We are recognising John Lonergan with the Lifetime Achievement Award for the stand he took, and the noise he made to make the everyday lives of people in prison more bearable” said Pat Carey. “John saw the opportunity to help others in a real, practical and meaningful way and he made it his mission to overcome whatever obstacles stood in his way. He did something not because it was popular, but because it the right thing to do and this, surely, summarises the true spirit of humanitarianism.”
Mr Lonergan will accept his award at the Irish Red Cross Humanitarian Awards Ball which takes place in the Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin, on 16 November. The Humanitarian Awards Ball honours humanitarian achievements while raising much-needed funds for vulnerable children and families in Ireland and overseas.
The awards seek to recognise those who have had a humanitarian impact on the lives of others through volunteering, skill sharing, storytelling or fundraising and will highlight the efforts of those who have given a voice to humanitarian issues.