Thursday, 27 June 2013
Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Bill 2013: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who cannot be here today, I am pleased to present the Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Bill 2013 to this House. The existing prison in Cork, whose main cell block dates from the early nineteenth century, is no longer fit for purpose. The prison does not have in-cell sanitation and lacks the basic infrastructure required of a modern prison. The poor conditions have been strongly criticised by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention and the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention is of the view that the maximum capacity of the prison should be 146 prisoners. However, the prison regularly accommodates more than 200 prisoners and has, at times, accommodated more than 270 prisoners.
The main purpose of the proposed new prison development in Cork is to replace the substandard prison accommodation in the existing prison and provide a modern prison facility designed on the principle of rehabilitation and resettlement. The new prison will be situated adjacent to the existing prison on Rathmore Road. The investment being made in the development of a modern prison facility in Cork is a significant commitment by the Government given the current economic pressures being experienced. The new prison, including cells with full in-cell sanitation and showering facilities, will end the practice of slopping out and also provide a vastly better infrastructure necessary for the education and rehabilitation of prisoners, thus enhancing public safety.
Building on the site adjacent to the existing prison will also ensure value for money for the taxpayer. The new prison in Cork will have 170 cells which will house 275 prisoners and have a maximum capacity of 310 prisoners. All cells in the new facility will be approximately 12 sq. m. in size, have full in-cell sanitation with showering facilities and will be fully compliant with the standards for double occupancy set down by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention. Of the 170 cells in the new development, it is intended that approximately 30 will be designated exclusively for single occupancy. The planned capacity of 275 prisoners will be adequate for the needs of the prison's catchment area. The Cork Prison development will radically improve conditions for prisoners in the State's most overcrowded prison where, on occasion, three prisoners have been required to share a cell which is 8 sq. m. in size, with two prisoners in bunk beds and one on a mattress on the floor.
Development consent for the proposed new prison development in Cork is being sought under Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007. Part 4 sets out a special procedure that may be applied for the purpose of determining whether consent should be granted to larger prison developments. The purpose of the 2007 Act was to provide a more open and transparent mechanism for major prison developments under which an environmental impact assessment meeting European Union standards must be prepared and where the Houses of the Oireachtas make the decision whether to grant development consent. This is done in the form of a resolution approved by both Houses, which must be then confirmed by an Act.
In June 2012, the Minister for Justice and Equality issued a direction under section 18 of the Prisons Act 2007 that Part 4 of the Act is to apply to the proposed construction of a prison on a portion of the site used as Cork Prison. In November 2012, public notice was given of the proposed prison development and observations and submissions were invited. A rapporteur, Mr. James Farrelly, was appointed to prepare a report identifying the main issues raised and summarising the submissions and observations received. Twelve submissions, including a detailed submission from Cork City Council, and several petitions were received. There is no provision under the legislation for the rapporteur to comment on the validity or otherwise of submissions made nor is there any provision for him to make recommendations.
The documents required by the legislation have been laid before the Houses. These include the environmental impact assessment, visual representations of the exterior of the development and the rapporteur's report. In addition, a document was laid before the Houses setting out the observations of the Minister for Justice and Equality on the environmental impact assessment and the rapporteur's report.
The resolution approved by the Dáil and Seanad on Tuesday, 18 June is the consent required for the Cork Prison development to proceed. It is, in layperson's terms, the planning permission for the prison. It follows the format prescribed by section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007, listing the main measures taken to avoid, reduce or offset any possible significant adverse effects of the development on the environment. It also sets out the conditions to be complied with in the construction of the prison and details an alteration to the original proposals made in response to concerns expressed during the public consultation process.
A fundamental principle of the design and location of the prison has been to minimise and mitigate the impact of the development on the environment and the local community. The public consultation process and the rapporteur's report identified specific concerns on the part of local residents. In so far as is practicable, further measures are being taken to address these concerns. Visually conditioned concrete with a light-coloured finish will be used on the sections of the perimeter wall most visible to the public. To address a specific concern about the impact on residential property adjacent to the site, the height of the wall around the horticultural area at the northern end of the site will be reduced to approximately 5.2 m.
The Irish Prison Service will draw up a good neighbour policy which will provide a framework under which the concerns of local residents during the construction phase can be fully dealt with. The Irish Prison Service project manager will act as liaison officer and will set up a local consultation group to address any issues that arise during the construction period. The Irish Prison Service and the principal contractor will liaise closely with an Garda Síochána, Cork City Council and other interested parties in preparing a traffic management plan to minimise the impact of construction traffic on local residents and businesses.
As regards security issues, the existing prison is the only closed prison in the State that does not have a prison standard perimeter security wall. As the new prison will have such a wall and an outer cordon sanitaire secured by a 2.5 m fence, security risks will be significantly reduced. The need to prevent drugs or contraband being thrown into the prison from outside has been carefully considered in the prison design.
As regards privacy issues, the closed-circuit television, CCTV, system will be restricted to prevent viewing into neighbouring residential property and obscured glazing will be used in all windows overlooking such property. To mitigate noise pollution and dust during the construction of the prison, the perimeter wall will be constructed before construction of the prison buildings begins.
This short Bill, to confirm the resolutions passed by the Dáil and Seanad on 18 June, is a requirement of section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007. Before the Cork Prison development can proceed, an Act of the Oireachtas confirming those resolutions is required. This Bill is the final stage in the development approval process. The Bill contains only two sections. Section 1 confirms the resolutions under section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007 that were passed by the Dáil and Seanad on 18 June while section 2 provides the Short Title.
I am aware of the concerns of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice regarding the intention to provide for double occupancy of cells in the new prison. This issue was also raised by Deputies during the Dáil debate on the resolution. Given the current number of prisoners in custody, 4,250 on any given day, the Irish Prison Service is not in a position to provide single cell accommodation to all prisoners.
Single-cell accommodation across the system would result in a bed capacity of approximately 3,000 and would not be possible to achieve without releasing sizeable numbers of prisoners considered to represent a threat to public safety or, alternatively, by constructing another 1,000 cells and all of the ancillary support infrastructure they would require. In the current economic environment, such an ambitious building programme is not a realistic option. In addition, it should be borne in mind that in some cases prisoners are housed together for reasons other than lack of capacity. Family members, friends and co-accused prisoners often request to be assigned a shared cell. Shared cell accommodation can be very beneficial from a management point of view, particularly for those who are vulnerable and at risk of self-harm. There will always be a need for certain prisoners to be accommodated together. As outlined in the Irish Prison Service three year strategic plan, it is intended to align the capacity of our prisons with the guidelines laid down by the Inspector of Prisons by 2014, in so far as this is compatible with public safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system. In 2012 and in the first quarter of this year, priority has been given to reducing the chronic overcrowding in Mountjoy, Cork and Limerick Prisons and the Dóchas Centre. I am aware that another important matter of concern to Deputies is the provision of family-friendly visitor facilities in the new Cork prison.The Irish Prison Service recognises the importance for those in prison of maintaining and developing their relationships with their children and families.
The Irish Prison Service is committed to assisting in any way it can with the achievement of those objectives. Attempts to accomplish this raise a wide range of sensitivities and challenges, with an appropriate balance required between security provisions and conditions appropriate for family visits. The proposed new prison in Cork will have a modern visiting facility that is centred on the need to provide an environment for visits that is welcoming and comfortable in so far as that is possible in a prison setting. Following publication of the Irish Penal Reform Trust report entitled Picking Up the Pieces: The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment, the director general of the Irish Prison Service established a working group to advise on how best to implement the recommendations, in so far as practicable, across the prison estate. The working group has completed a detailed survey of existing visiting facilities and supports. The Irish Prison Service working group has also embarked on a short and targeted consultation process with various stakeholders, including relevant community representatives. It is envisaged that this consultation process will inform the group's approach to the detailed recommendations contained in the IPRT report. In addition, a specialist architect has been engaged to undertake a review of the visiting facilities in the 12 closed prisons in the State with a view to bringing forward a set of proposals for improvement of the visiting facilities at each location.
Construction of the new Cork Prison is expected to commence in October 2013 and to be completed in early 2016. As action is urgently required to address the chronic overcrowding and inadequate conditions in Cork Prison, the Minister and I hope this Bill will be passed by both Houses before the summer recess in order that tendering for the construction of the new prison can proceed. On behalf of the Minister, I commend the Bill to the House.
Fianna Fáil supports plans to build a new prison in Cork in order to address the current poor quality conditions there. It is vital that the State has the capacity to adequately rehabilitate prisoners in a safe environment and cater for the prison population. The current practice of slopping out, as well as the conditions of overcrowding and insufficient visitor access, are incompatible with that goal. The new prison is a step towards addressing these long-standing problems.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has consistently identified chronic overcrowding and inhumane conditions in Cork Prison as among the most critical in the Irish prison system, with multiple occupancy of cells, in-cell sanitation available in only eight of its 144 cells and inadequate medical and visiting facilities. There were 217 prisoners in Cork Prison on 13 June 2013, with an operational bed capacity of 210. The Inspector of Prisons has previously stated that the current Cork Prison should accommodate no more than 146 prisoners. In recent years the prison has regularly held around 300 prisoners, underlining its completely inadequate capacity and gross overcrowding.
The Cork Prison visiting committee recently expressed concern in its annual report for 2012 about the completely outdated and poor conditions in some parts of Cork Prison and has welcomed the Government's commitment to a new prison in Cork. In its publication in February 2012 the Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed the Irish Prison Service strategy document entitled Unlocking Community Alternatives - A Cork Approach, which was published on 29 February 2012, as a practical response to the long-standing issues of intolerable conditions and chronic overcrowding in Cork Prison. The strategy document proposed the building of a new 150-cell prison with full in-cell sanitation on the site adjacent to Cork Prison. That vision forms the basis of the Bill to provide for the building of this prison; in effect, it will provide planning permission for the new prison. The new prison must have adequate space to accommodate prison population demands both currently and in the future, based on anticipated trends.
The construction of the new prison is obviously an issue of particular concern to local residents, whose needs must be of paramount importance in the development of the prison. The unique planning permission mechanism used to construct prisons makes this even more important. It is vital that sufficient measures are put in place to ensure that the concerns of residents are fully addressed. Fianna Fáil welcomes the measures announced recently, namely, the commitment by the Irish Prison Service to drawing up a good neighbourhood policy, which will provide a framework under which the concerns of local residents during the construction phase can be fully dealt with.
The Irish Prison Service project manager will act as a liaison officer and will set up a local consultation group to address any issues that arise during the construction period. A construction environmental management plan will be drawn up by the principal contractor and approved by the Irish Prison Service and it will be implemented in keeping with best practice. The implementation of a traffic management plan will form a key part of the construction environmental management plan. The contractor and the Irish Prison Service will liaise closely with An Garda Síochána, Cork City Council and other interested parties in preparing a traffic management plan that will minimise the impact of construction traffic on local residents and businesses. It is of paramount importance that all of these issues be managed in a professional and coherent manner in order to address the concerns of the residents who live adjacent to the prison or in the vicinity of it.
I reiterate that we support the Bill. It began its journey by way of a motion referred to a committee and it was debated at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. We also had a session during which we debated a resolution, which was adopted by Dáil Éireann. We are happy to support the Bill today.
We had a chance to debate a motion on this issue last week and the issues with which we are dealing now are essentially the same as those on which we reflected last week. We in Sinn Féin will support the Bill, having supported the motion last week, because we know of the urgency of constructing a new prison in Cork. I had an opportunity, as a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, to visit the prison. While I commend the Governor of the prison on his honesty and professionalism, as well as his team, they are all very open about the fact that conditions in the prison are unacceptable and are not in any way what they would desire. They also made a presentation to us that day on what was planned for the new Cork Prison. We had a chance to get a sense of the site and the challenges facing it. When one builds a new prison it is not always easy to find a location for it and I accept that there are challenges. At the initial presentation on this matter by the Minister at our committee and during the debate on the motion last week, I urged that the concerns of residents be listened to as much as possible in the construction phase. In the North of Ireland there have been a number of opportunities for Ministers to try to ensure as much as possible that local employment is provided in the construction phases of major projects.
I ask the Government to bring the benefits to the people of the city, where possible. I am sure the jobs will be much needed. That is not the most important issue, however. The most important issue is to have a modern prison that reflects the vision for penal reform. The all-party report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality submitted a five point plan on decarceration to reduce prison numbers by one third in the next ten years. We investigated community service and restorative justice as alternatives to prison. I understand the Government will be introducing a fines (amendment) Bill later this year. That will be crucial to ending the practice whereby people go to prison for non-payment of fines. There are ways of gathering fines and holding people to account which do not entail putting people into prison.
One of the issues that was brought to our attention is that managing prisons can be frustrating for governors. They must do their best to meet the challenge of rehabilitation and maintaining morale while also dealing with a steady flow of prisoners through the doors of their prisons. A governor cannot turn away an individual who is sentenced to prison. The result is overcrowding and the practice of slopping out, which belongs to the Victorian era. We should provide for single cell occupancy in order that people who are sent to prison are not treated as if they are less than human. They are already being punished by dint of imprisonment and they may also be meeting their responsibility to society by participating in rehabilitation, training and reorienting their lives while they are in prison.
The committee had an opportunity to travel to Helsinki for an intensive series of meetings with a range of experts from the justice committee of the Finnish Parliament, the parole board and leading lights of academia, as well as a visit to an open prison. When someone is sentenced to prison in Finland, an exit plan is developed for him or her. At present in Ireland, a prisoner can have 25% of his or her sentence remitted simply by keeping his or her head down. Remission is not linked to demonstrable rehabilitation. The committee's report argues that the period of remission should be increased to 33% as an incentive for prisoners to follow a clear path back into society. That is in the best interest of prisoners and, more important, society. The issue of value for money also arises because it costs €65,000 per annum to keep a prisoner. That is a huge amount of money for taxpayers to spend.
International best practice indicates that certain prisoners should not be held in shared cells, particularly those who are under protection or serving life sentences and, arguably, those who are recovering from drug addiction. We need to give individual prisoners the space they require for various reasons. A practical reality must also be borne in mind, however. If prisoners are sharing a cell overnight, the practical reality is that they will have to use the toilet in front of each other. That is not what we should want for our prison system because it undermines the dignity of those affected. The Irish Penal Reform Trust and Fr. Peter McVerry have criticised the plans for Cork. The prison will have 275 cells but only 30 are intended as single occupancy. The fact that only 10% of the accommodation in a brand new prison will be single occupancy is a missed opportunity given what we now know. I appreciate that we cannot provide single occupancy in every cell but in a context where 59 prisoners are currently under protection in Cork Prison, 30 single occupancy cells appear to be inadequate. Where was the consultation with the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the joint committee or prisoner advocacy groups? Are these plans simply the result of a group of architects and the prison authorities doing the best they could with the site? This is a missed opportunity.
If in the future we implement a decarceration strategy to decrease prisoner numbers, many of the cells that are currently intended to be shared could become single occupancy but that would be by accident rather than design. Even at this late stage I urge the Government to take on board the legitimate concerns of those it regards as respected partners and consider amending its plans. My party is not going to vote against this Bill and we did not vote against the motion introduced last week even though we have concerns about the proposal. However, I ask the Government to investigate whether it can increase the number of single occupancy cells. I do not believe any prisoners should sleep overnight in shared cells.
Nelson Mandela, who may leave this life very soon, famously said that to know how a country works, one should visit its prisons to see how those on the bottom rung are treated. Perhaps we should be inspired by his advice in getting the design of this prison right. How can we make it better than what is currently proposed? The refurbishment plans for Mountjoy Prison have had a big impact on single cell occupancy. The all-party recommendations of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality are progressive and address the need for somebody who commits a crime to pay his or debt to society. The committee does not take a soft-touch approach to justice. Restorative justice requires offenders to take responsibility and meeting one's victim face-to-face is not an easy way out. Community service is a way of repaying a debt to society by working for the community. These approaches are not soft on crime but they offer a means of rehabilitating offenders while also saving money for the taxpayer.
The Government has our goodwill in respect of this project. I appreciate that it can pass the Bill without our co-operation and we support the Bill, albeit with serious reservations. I urge the Government to find a means of increasing the number of single occupancy cells in order to protect prisoners who are vulnerable or in need of rehabilitation. The prison authorities will know better than me the projected figures. The criticism of the Government's plans has been stinging. There is considerable disappointment with the design of the prison.
I appreciate that time is of the essence. I know that things can be amended. It is not a huge task to look at various wings and restructure them. That is not a massive task in terms of what is coming down the line. We know the existing numbers in Cork. We hope fewer people will be sent to jail as a result of the changes being introduced in the fines (amendment) Bill. As the prison could be reconfigured, it is closer to our vision of what we want. We need to send a message by designing a prison that reflects our values and our vision for rehabilitation in 2013. I think we all know that what is on the table now is not up to standard. We need to sort it out.
Although I have not been in the prison in Cork, I understand the new prison will be a huge improvement on what is there. It is hard to imagine that a good boy like me has been in four prisons in my time. The new prison in Cork should be designed to accommodate fewer prisoners and to provide for single-cell occupancy. I tabled an amendment proposing that "prisoners shall normally be accommodated during the night in individual cells", but it has been ruled out of order for one reason or another.
I find some of the statistics that have been issued by the Irish Penal Reform Trust a bit frightening. who are sent to prison. I do not think it offers any serious educational value. Most of kids I know in Wexford who went to prison came out of it a lot worse than they were when they went in. Something must be wrong. The trust also stated: "The prison population has increased by 400% since 1970." I do not think things have improved in that time. The trust has reported that "The majority of Irish prisoners have never sat a State exam and over half left school before the age of 15" This tells us that most of the prison population come from seriously deprived backgrounds. It costs a great deal of money to keep people in prison. If we used some joined-up thinking, we might consider why so many kids run into trouble at an early stage and why so many people from poorer backgrounds end up in prison. We have to fight the causes of their behaviour, rather than hitting them with a sledgehammer and throwing them behind bars. According to the trust, "t". That does not include the educational spend. It is amazing that such an incredible amount of money is being spent without having any remedial effect. The policy of spending so much money is not working. The trust has also reported that f
Irish Penal Reform Trust has pointed out that the wasteful practice of imprisoning people for fine defaults costs the State over €2 million a year in court, Garda and Prison Service resources. The number of people being sent to jail for non-payment of fines has surged to more than 7,400. Is it a good idea to send people to jail for not paying fines? Is there a better way of doing this? Has the State considered alternatives? Have we exhausted the potential for making greater use of community service? Now that the Revenue has more powers than at any time in the history of the State - we recall the new laws that were introduced with regard to the household tax - one would imagine it has ways of addressing the problem of people not complying with the obligation to do community service. Most Deputies will agree that it makes more sense for young people and people of all ages to do community service rather than spending useless time in prison at a huge cost to the taxpayer. We need to put a bit more thought into how community service can work better. It is a no-brainer that community service makes more sense in these cases. It is better for individuals because it is more educational, it is a form of exercise and it leads to a certain sense of fulfilment. A feel-good factor is associated with it. God knows it would save the State a fortune.
According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, "[t]here was an increase of 10% in committals for non-payment of court ordered fines in 2012." The figures are increasing. I keep thinking we will develop a more enlightened approach to these matters, but we are actually going backwards. The Irish Penal Reform Trust stated: "Over 70% of prisoners are unemployed on committal and a similar percentage self-report as not having any particular trade or occupation." This statistic bears out my contention that many of these people come from an unfair position in the first place. The world is not fair. It is not a level playing field. The manner in which we penalise such people for coming from a disadvantaged position does not stack up. The trust has also reported that "[t]here were 3,495 sentenced committals for road traffic offences in 2011". I presume judges and others from the higher echelons of our society were not involved in these cases. They probably got them terminated in advance.
I know that. The Minister of State is dead right in that respect. I would like to conclude by quoting Peter McVerry who knows more about prisons than I do. I imagine he knows more than most of us. If canonisation was still available-----
-----and meant anything, I would definitely recommend him for it. He has written:
Ultimately it is society's attitude to criminals such as "them" that prevents any serious attempt to reduce crime levels. Most people now know that 196 young people died in, or shortly after leaving, the care of the State in the decade 2000-2010. Most died from unnatural causes - drug overdose, suicide, violence. There was an investigation and a report, followed, quite rightly, by widespread outrage at the failure of the State to adequately care for them. The need to rectify the deficiencies in the system and provide the necessary resources to do so was agreed by all political parties. However, in the same decade, 135 people died while in prison or within one month of leaving prison. In other words, at the time of their death they were, or had recently been, in the care of the State. Most died from unnatural causes - drug overdose, suicide, violence. But there was no investigation, no report, no outrage, no comment from any politician and, of course, no commitment to dealing with the deficiencies in the system that may have led to some of these deaths.We need to take on board Peter McVerry's very strong point that this issue is seen as a case of "them and us".
I would like to make a couple of brief points. It is appropriate to step back and look at where prison policy is going, not just in the context of human rights issues and how one judges a civilised society but also against the backdrop of austerity, the minute analysis of where taxpayer's money is spent and the question of whether we get value for that money.
Are prisons operating to make society a safer place? Do they act as a deterrent for people going into crime? Are they value for money? Is there a better way in which we could organise things? These are valid questions to be asked and I do not think we ask them enough.
The reality is that the majority of people in our prisons are there due to socioeconomic factors. They are the victims of poverty, of abuse and, in many instances, of the cycle of drugs and drug abuse in particular. We need to address those root causes. To invest resources in those areas would make society a far safer place and would offer greater value for money, to my mind, than spending an enormous amount of money on prisons per se. My belief is that prisons serve very little purpose whatsoever. I believe they are institutions for the people outside rather than for the people within, and they do not make things any better. In many ways, we have seen enough analysis to know they are a sort of holding operation, a temporary reprieve for many of the people who spend some time in prison before going back out for a brief spell, only to come back in again without any rehabilitation or without any repayment of their debt to society. In fact, their crime results in society paying a huge cost to keep them in prison yet they are back in again a couple of months later.
We need to take a step back and look at where we are going in this regard. I previously spent a month in Mountjoy Women's Prison, a prison which we laud as being more enlightened for its thinking and having had a more rehabilitative impact, initially at least. We would have to say it has rolled back considerably from its early years. In my experience of being in there, most of the women were victims of poverty, drug abuse or sexual abuse in their youth and they needed assistance and intervention. While the cost has come down a bit, at that stage it was costing approximately €80,000 per head to keep people there, whereas if they had received an intervention early on in life, it would have been far cheaper for everybody - the women themselves and those upon whom they committed the offences that led them there in the first place. We need to see the discussion in that context.
Cork Prison was infamous for its appalling standards and for some of the conduct that went on there in terms of the treatment of people, which certainly did not lead to people coming out better citizens - if anything, I imagine it made them even worse, more tormented individuals. There was solitary confinement, stories about people being stripped to their boxer shorts and left in rooms for days on end and so on. It was a very reprehensible type of culture that no civilised person could stand over.
When we are looking to improve Cork Prison, which is a good thing in some ways, we have to look at it with a critical eye. It is not good enough that the Bill is being rushed through or that it is being guillotined on a Thursday evening. It is not good enough that the notice for motions was very limited and that the one motion which was put down as an amendment was struck out of order. It is not good enough to rush these things through. We are potentially talking about 310 people being incarcerated in this new prison. If we are putting in taxpayers' money, we should at least know that what we are doing is being done properly and that we are starting out on a proper footing. In that context, it is a missed opportunity.
It is also a missed opportunity not to include the amendment Deputy Mick Wallace put forward with regard to single cell occupancy. Double occupancy is against all best practice and goes against the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch's previous statements that single occupancy was the way forward and should be the only way in which to deal with people. I am not sure why this is being rushed through in such a short space of time. Organisations for which I know the Minister of State would have respect, such as the Jesuits and others, have been in contact with our office and they are very concerned at the speed of this and concerned that their points have not been taken on board. I was going to give the Minister of State the benefit of the doubt and suggest the rush is on to clear a bit of space for a few of the Anglo criminals but, sadly, I do not think that will be the case and our prisons will continue to hold those from a lower socioeconomic background. However, we are not doing them or the taxpayer any favours by putting in inadequate systems from the beginning.
There is a serious problem about planning double cell occupancy from the very beginning. It is against all best practice and goes against the process that is under way in trying to improve the situation in Mountjoy Prison. Why would the Government do this in Mountjoy Prison, on the one hand, and then take a retrograde step in Cork? There is a clear contradiction. It is a clear breach of international best practice given the Minister said last week the prison would provide what he called "adequate" and "suitable" accommodation for all prisoners. Is that really true? Article 18.5 of the European prison rules states: "Prisoners shall normally be accommodated during the night in individual cells except where it is preferable for them to share sleeping accommodation." Fr. Peter McVerry, the expert on this area, said:
Cell sharing should not be the norm... In many cases, it results in increased intimidation and violence, and leads to non-drug users being introduced to drug use. ... [E]nforced sharing can represent a very cramped and oppressive living environment [given] that in Ireland out-of-cell time is, at best, only six or seven hours a day.It is not just about people doubling up. It is about forcing people into a very small space to endure the company of somebody else for the overwhelming part of their day. This is a serious issue which must be addressed. We have obligations under the Council of Europe to ensure that prison conditions do not infringe on human dignity and provide proper occupational facilities. In that sense, the decision should be debated more and not rushed through in this way.
The very fact we are building a bigger prison is a problem for me. Again, best international practice shows we should be moving away from bigger prisons whereas the plan for this one is a population greater than what was there before, including planned doubling up from the beginning, which is not on. Other Deputies have referred to points-----
I have been warned. Other Deputies have made points with regard to in-cell sanitation, which is obviously welcome. However, unless this is a fully walled facility, it might as well not be there, and there is still an abuse of people's privacy.
I again appeal to the Government to push back from rushing this through and to look, even at this late hour, to provide for single cell occupancy as being in accord with best international practice and as a measure in stepping back and looking at our overall prison policy. To me, that policy is a monumental waste of money and does not serve the taxpayer, the victims of crime or those carrying out unlawful activities any good whatsoever.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I will always remember, a number of years ago when I was a teenager growing up in Greystones, attending a presentation by the then Governor of Mountjoy Prison, Mr. John Lonergan. He said that if he was handed a map of Dublin city, he would be able to identify five small areas from which he was likely to see the bulk of the population of Mountjoy Prison in the following years. It is something that has stuck in my mind and should stick in all of our minds, particularly when we read that the prison population in Ireland has increased by 400% since 1970.
Deputy Clare Daly is right in regard to the socioeconomic linkage with our prison population. Another area which is very much worth exploring is that of special needs education, including the lack of detection of disabilities and behavioural conditions. I have talked to many people who have views and expertise in this area, and they will talk about, say, autism and ADHD being relatively new conditions in terms of recognition in this country. Many people went through life, through society and through school - or maybe did not go through school - with these conditions and they were viewed as perhaps odd, as bad people or as people who misbehaved. Thankfully, some went on to great things but many others ended up within our criminal justice system. This is something worth reflecting on and something the Government needs to keep a constant eye on, even within our current prison population, with regard to what can be done to support and meet the needs of people in our prisons who, if they were four, five or six years of age and starting primary school now, would be diagnosed with a condition and supported. It is a point I would like to put on the record of the House.
I very much welcome the fact the development of this new prison will end practices such as slopping out.
We should take the opportunity to examine how to keep people out of prisons and break that cycle of crime. The Government has done much good work on this, particularly regarding young offenders. We have seen significant media attention and I heard the Minister, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, comment on this last weekend. Issues include ending the practice of putting 16 year olds into St. Patrick's Institution, extending the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to cover St. Patrick's Institution and casting a light on what up to now has been a very secretive and restrictive practice of dealing with children and teenagers who are caught in our criminal justice system and who are often brought into contact with much more serious criminals. Those developments are welcome.
We need to examine community service. In my home town of Greystones we have an active community service programme. People who come before the courts system give something back to society when they get caught up in minor crimes rather than crowding prisons at a cost to the taxpayer. These people actively link in with initiatives such as Tidy Towns and make a positive contribution. They find worth and new direction in their lives.
We need to examine night courts. Many others have spoken about this and my party spoke on it in opposition. We need to examine speedy access to justice whereby people who commit crimes, particularly minor crimes, are brought before the courts if need be and dealt with in a speedy manner. Issues should not be allowed to fester. Justice delayed is justice denied.
We need to examine drug rehabilitation programmes in our communities. I recently visited a youth service in my constituency in Arklow and was surprised to hear the schools have been informed that it is no longer a good idea to teach children about the dangers of drugs in school and that it should be done outside school time. I found it very odd because I remember sitting in secondary school while the scariest looking garda they could find made one aware of the dangers of drugs. That fear of substance misuse is beginning to wane in society and that needs to be examined. There is a captive audience in schools. Our schools are a major resource in this regard and that must be examined.
I welcome the Bill. The Government has taken a progressive approach to these issues. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, have been reforming in this area but we need to take seriously the view of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment when it says the building of additional accommodation is unlikely in and of itself to provide a lasting solution to overcrowding. We must examine how people get caught up in the cycle of crime.
It is timely that we discuss this now because it seems in this country we still have a situation whereby those who commit non-white-collar crime face much more speedy and efficient justice than those involved in white-collar crime, and this Government must grapple with this. When Matthew Elderfield came before the Committee of Public Accounts in recent weeks, he expressed serious concern about our laws on white-collar crime and banking offences. We must take those comments very seriously if we are to learn the lessons of the last few years and see exactly what Mr. Elderfield means. Maybe that could be his parting gift to this country. If there is a legislative gap and a resource issue that must be addressed. The people, this week more than most, are demanding this.
The resolution approving the development of a prison on a portion of the site used as Cork Prison was passed by the Dáil and the Seanad on 18 June 2013. This Bill seeks to confirm the resolutions. Cork Prison dates from 1849 and was originally built as a garrison prison for the adjoining army barracks, now Collins Barracks. The conditions in the prison have been described as particularly poor and problems include overcrowding, an absence of in-cell sanitation and deteriorating buildings and services. The report of the Thornton Hall project review group in 2011 recommended that the prison be closed and replaced by a new prison at Kilworth. The report also notes that overcrowding in the prison system will not be solved solely by building more prisons and that further steps are required to reduce the prison population.
The prison population in Ireland has increased by 400% since 1970. The rate of imprisonment in Ireland is 96 per 100,000. Concern about the rate of increase has been expressed by the cross-party sub-committee on penal reform which in recent reports recommended the adoption of a decarceration strategy, a declared intention by the Government to reduce the prison population by one third over a ten year period. Consent for the proposed new development in Cork is being sought under Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007, which sets out a special planning procedure for major developments that applies if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence so directs. The 2007 Act provides an open and transparent mechanism for major developments under which an environmental impact assessment meeting EU standards must be prepared where the Oireachtas makes the decision to grant development consent.
The purpose of the new prison development is to replace the substandard prison accommodation in Cork and provide modern prison facilities designed around the principles of rehabilitation and resettlement. The new prison will provide approximately 275 spaces for prisoners based on double cell occupancy. The prison will have a peak accommodation capacity of 310 prisoners but that will be reached only in emergency circumstances. All the cells will be of a size acceptable to the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention for double occupancy and will have integrated toilets and showers. It is expected that the construction of the new prison will commence in October 2013 and will be completed in early 2016.
I welcome the Minister and compliment her on her performance on the radio last Sunday. I saw a tweet this morning on the Twitter machine which I thought was very appropriate for today, as follows: "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." That quote is from Nelson Mandela. It is very appropriate today, as he faces his own battle, that we remember those words. Prison is not just about being incarcerated; it is about bringing people from a past life to a future life. That is why we should use Nelson Mandela's words today to remind ourselves that justice is not just about holding people to account and making them serve time but also about rehabilitation. That is why I very much welcome this Bill dealing with Cork Prison.
As the Minister and Deputy Dara Murphy know well, the prison is in a part of Cork that needs regeneration and modernisation. As somebody who taught in that part of the city for a number of years, I know the people are genuine, decent people. The staff of Cork Prison require a facility that is fit for purpose. We must put this in context. The staff should not have to work in a service that is inadequate, undermines their morale and does not portray a good image of the prison services. We must be respectful of the role our prison services and those who work in them play.
I commend all of those within the prison service, who, by and large, do tremendous work, often in circumstances in which their own patience and sense of value is questioned unfairly. From talking to many prison officers and governors in Cork, I know these people are decent, genuine, caring people who want what is best for those with whom they have to work alongside their colleagues. They do not want those under their care to be further undermined and they want our prison population to be rehabilitated, by and large. Some prisoners will not be rehabilitated, and we must face that challenge.
I have made a journey in this regard because I was one of the old "flog them, lock them up and throw away the key" brigade, but in my life as a school teacher and politician who has met families, former prisoners, past pupils who have been in prison and pupils who are in prison, I recognise that life is not black and white. In our journey of life we undergo much evolution, and one realisation is that we all deserve to be treated with respect, no matter who we are. We must always be held to account and justice must always be seen to be served on those who deserve to be put in that situation.
This is a very significant day. I congratulate the Irish Prison Service on the launch of its LGBT network, Inside Out. This is Gay Pride week and I welcome the decision of the staff and, in particular, the director general, and thank them for their support of LGBT staff. This is a very significant journey for the Irish Prison Service and its staff. In Gay Pride week it is important in this House to acknowledge that journey. Some members of staff may be afraid to come out and admit to their sexuality, but others not so. The network proclaims to the outside world that staff in the Irish Prison Service can help to shape future policy and influence the lives of so many. It is a fantastic day and I am very proud to support them. I congratulate all those involved in the Irish Prison Service.
Much has been made of the condition of Cork Prison and associated issues. This is a significant moment in the history of the prison. A modern building will cater for the needs of those who are incarcerated in it and the staff.
I wish to make a point about white collar crime. This week has seen the publication of the Anglo Irish Bank tapes, known as the Anglo tapes. It is a significant moment in the nation's history. I do not wish to make a controversial comment on the tapes, but I ask why they have been revealed now; who revealed them and whose interests are served by their being proclaimed to the outside world at this time. We are elected representatives and are all outraged at the carry-on among a coterie of the banking fraternity. A total of €64 billion of taxpayer's money has been given to prop up the banks. All of us inside and outside this House, County from Cork to County Donegal, want to see people held to account.
I will do so. Many of us would like to see those who did wrong brought to justice and, ultimately, put behind bars, but that is a matter for the courts and the inquiry, if one is to be held. I am incensed that the Government which has worked so diligently in the past two and a half years to restore our international reputation to allow the country to receive assistance from the troika suddenly has a light shone on it - for what benefit and for what purpose? I question why that has happened now. I do not take issue with the journalists involved because they are doing their job. All of us in public life want to see those who transgressed held to account. That is the very least we deserve and the very least the citizens of the country deserve, many of whom have had to emigrate or are now unemployed.
This is a very important day for Cork Prison, in which the landscape is being changed to create a prison which it is hoped will provide not just for incarceration but also rehabilitation. Education and training facilities and counselling are important in prison. More importantly, the services should include a mentoring system for young men and women to enable them to change their lives and become new citizens. The Bill provides for two groups of people, those who work and live in the prisons and also the people who live in the neighbourhood of the prison. I commend Cork City Council and the residents who engaged in the consultation process and raised many issues of concern to them. I hope the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will listen to these concerns.
I refer to the interview given by the Minister of State last Sunday about the psychiatric services and St. Patrick's Institution. I agree with her that we need to start treating people as citizens and changing the model, as it needs to be changed. I am very pleased that the Ombudsman for Children will come before the Oireachtas committee on 11 July to discuss the issue of the detention of children under 16 years. The Government has changed the modus operandi at Lusk, Oberstown and St. Patrick's Institution. That is why this is another significant milestone on the road that the Government is taking to bring about change. I hope we can move forward in unison. I welcome the comments of the Minister at the committee and in the House a number of weeks ago. I commend the staff who work in Cork Prison for their Trojan work.
I also welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill which is significant for the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and me as two Government Deputies from that part of the country. The two of us and many people in Cork have for a very long time been hearing stories about Cork Prison and its terrible facilities. For too long, politicians have neglected reports from human rights organisations and prison visiting committees. I compliment the Minister of State and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, on giving priority to this facility in Cork. It is one of the main prisons in the country and its upgrading is long overdue.
I also compliment the residents for the constructive way in which they have engaged with Cork City Council and others involved in the process. They have concerns, many of which have been dealt with to date such as those to do with lighting, CCTV systems, privacy and the prior construction of the prison wall, which is very important. The privacy of local people has been a concern considering the use of CCTV cameras near back gardens. Concerns about traffic management were also raised. This is not a new facility and I do not believe that, apart from some difficulties associated with construction work, it will have long-term serious effects on local traffic management.
This is more positive news for the north side of the city, following the positive news on the opening of the urgent care facility. The Government can say to people on the north side of Cork city that even though we are in extremely difficult financial circumstances, where the need is greatest, moneys have been found for the provision of medical and prison facilities. Having helped in my own small way, I make this point on own behalf and that of the Minister of State.
I visited Cork Prison on Christmas Eve in 2009. I suggest the vast majority of those who make statements that prison is too soft have never visited a prison, certainly not Cork Prison or Mountjoy Prison. In its current state, Cork Prison is a facility in which it would be extremely difficult to provide for the rehabilitation of prisoners. When I visited it on Christmas Eve in 2009, I was struck most by the families and the children, in particular. The prison will have a significantly improved family visitor facility which will reduce the stress of a difficult experience for the innocent parties, the families and children of prisoners.
Reference was made to the human rights record at Cork Prison where I have met many of the staff. Often, they live quite close to the prison. It is welcome that the the development is within the city of Cork for the people who work there. To be fair, as the majority of visitors will come from the greater Cork city area, it is useful for everyone that access will remain as it is. The prison visiting committee has done excellent work, with management and staff. The prison is an extremely difficult environment in which to work, but I am satisfied that we are extremely well served by prison management, officers and the visiting committee. At all times, they have worked to rehabilitate prisoners and keep society safe.
There has been discussion about single cells. Listening to some Opposition parties, it appears that they move out of the real world and ignore our financial position when it suits them. If every prison were to move to single cell provision today, 1,250 prisoners would have to be immediately released. The protection of society is imperative and people who are required to be imprisoned must be in prison. Having said that, 30 single cells is a restrictive provision for Cork Prison. Some prisoners require for their own safety or the safety of those with whom they are housed to be accommodated singly. If possible, we should increase the number of single cells in Cork Prison to 60. I ask the Minister of State to include that issue to be addressed in the notes prepared for the Minister for Justice and Equality.
The Bill is very positive for Cork and I hope the residents' concerns can continue to be addressed. I look forward to the completion of the prison and the new jobs for those who will be involved in its construction.
As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I am pleased to speak on the legislation. The committee visited Cork Prison on 25 October 2012. In keeping with Deputy Dara Murphy's comments, I invite anyone who criticises prisons for not being tough enough to spend a few nights in Cork Prison to see how they get on. I pay tribute to the staff of the prison, given the conditions in which they work. The tension in the prison is palpable as one moves around. I felt threatened not because of anything anyone said, did or expressed through body language but because of the proximity of people in an overcrowded space.
I was delighted during our visit to be briefed on the decision the Minister had made on his first visit to the prison that things would not continue as they were. For many years there have been plans to build a prison in Munster. There was a plan to build a super prison on Spike Island, which I felt would not work and did not support. There was a plan to build a prison at Kilworth, which did not go ahead. Finally, we see tangible, concrete plans to build a prison in Cork city adjacent to the old one. While I acknowledge that residents have some concerns, I note that a great deal of work has been done to address them by the Minister, the Minister of State and departmental officials. That is welcome.
Mention has been made of single cells. I understand there will be quite a number shared cells in the new prison. The facilities which are put in place will represent a very significant improvement on what is there now. There will be no comparison. I understand that, as far as possible, cells will be occupied singly. Of course, there will be times when double occupancy is necessary.
The joint committee produced a report on penal reform which was referred to by Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. The report contains five strong recommendations. As part of our work, we visited Finland. We were told that it had one of the best penal systems in the world. There are 27 prisons there, of which 15 are closed and 12 are open. The rate of recidivism is very low, at approximately 35%, whereas in Ireland it is quite high, at over 50%. In Finland prison is viewed as old-fashioned. Quite a large number of people spend time engaged in community service and out of prison. The committee has requested that the recommendations made in our report be debated in the autumn, which I would like to see happen. We have recommended reducing prison numbers by commuting prison sentences of less than six months and through the use of community service orders; increasing standard remission from one quarter to one third; introducing an incentivised remission scheme of up to one half; introducing legislation providing for structured release, temporary release, parole and community return; and addressing prison conditions, overcrowding and the increased use of open prisons. When these policies were adopted in Finland, crime rates fell. Some people think the only answer to crime is hang them, flog them, lock them up and throw away the key. In some areas in which that approach has been taken, crime has increased. In some US states that policy is now being reversed as it is extraordinarily expensive and does not work. We must examine best practice and the jurisdictions in which it has been successful. We were hugely impressed by what we saw in Finland. I call on the Chief Whip to organise a debate on the report of the joint committee when we return after the summer vacation. I would like to see the recommendations made implemented as soon as possible.
Incarceration must take place of people who are dangerous and where people need an opportunity to reflect on a crime which has hurt others and society, as in the case of white collar crime, with which we really need to get to grips. People who go to prison will not be there forever. We must work to ensure that whatever danger they posed to society before they entered prison has been removed and that they can be reintegrated into society. There are major challenges, but agencies such as IASIO, the Probation Service and parole boards do a huge amount of work to address them. I pay tribute to these organisations and those who work with them.
We must consider all prisons in the State. The joint committee has visited a number of them. We noted that at a prison in the midlands prisoners were involved with Samaritans. A number of prisoners had been trained to listen and it was quite impressive. One prisoner said a male prison was a macho environment, but while prisoners act tough in the yard, they often cry themselves to sleep at night. For many, mental health issues and being away from family, etc., have an impact. I reiterate that where offenders have done evil acts, there should be a certain degree of punishment involved; they should be removed from society for a while, and they should have a chance to reflect on what they have done, but the day in question was an eye-opener. When offenders leave prison, if the supports are not available on the outside, they will end up back in prison again before too long. We must look at why our recidivism rates are so high.
Recently, I undertook a study of community courts in New York, where I was highly impressed by the fact that they tried to prevent offenders from going to prison, if possible, and increasingly used community service orders. I note the Minister and the Department are encouraging the use of such orders, where possible. The Judiciary, of course, is totally independent and it is totally up to it to decide what sanctions should be imposed under the law. In many other jurisdictions community service has been shown to be highly effective, but it must be backed up with other supports and services. There is an organisation in Wexford, the Cornmarket Project, which does tremendous work in the area of anger management and in looking at the whole life experiences of a person to determine the issues that lead him or her to commit crime. It is quite impressive. I met those involved and they were here on a number of occasions to make presentations to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. They are highly professional, effective and successful. That is the kind of project at which we should be looking.
There is a considerable amount of work going on in all of the committees in the Houses. Often, this work does not receive the publicity and airing that it needs and deserves. If we are talking about Oireachtas reform, we need to start looking at the work committees do, including that being done on the issue of penal reform by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Joanna Tuffy, was also a member of the committee for some of that period. I refer also to the report on the review of legislation on prostitution in Ireland that the committee launched this morning.
This is an important event and I am anxious to see construction work start as quickly as possible.
I will comment on the fact that the main Opposition party has again abandoned the House. When my party was in opposition, that rarely, if ever, happened. We always manned the benches. Why is the main Opposition spokesman on Justice not present? He should be sitting here for the entire debate. It is disgraceful that Fianna Fáil abandons the House on such a regular basis.
I am tempted to say Deputy Wallace is only a TD, to repeat what Deputy Mathews said to me this morning. I do not mean that. This is a House of equals. I have always believed that. I do not think there is any one greater than another.
I start by thanking everyone. That is what the script states and what one is expected to say, but in this case, I genuinely mean it. It is quite a lonely place to be to defend or speak for the rights of prisoners. It has always been that way, and so it will continue. The one person - of course, I would say this, but at the time I was not in the same party as him - I always admired for his stance on prisoners' rights is the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe Costello, who had been doing this long before any of us had the courage to stand up and speak on these issues. He deserves enormous credit for that.
I also congratulate the Irish Prison Officers' Association on its launch recognising that it has members, employees within the force, who are LGBT. In what the chairperson of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, Deputy Stanton, concluded is a most macho of environments, it takes an enormous amount of courage to say one is gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual. If one considers that it is estimated that between 10% and 12% of the population are gay, bisexual or lesbian, what makes us think that the prison population is any different? However, we do think that.
I cannot disagree with much of what has been said. I come from an area that is significantly disadvantaged and live within a five minute walk from Cork Prison, which I have been in. The circumstances in there are appalling. There is not room to swing a cat. I commend the staff who work in that prison because, as Deputy Stanton correctly states, if one confines offenders and deprives them of their liberty in circumstances where they are so closely confined, tensions are bound to be constantly raised and the circumstances in which staff must work are most difficult. A new prison will work, for both the prison population and those who must administer the system.
Of course, we would like to see a prison where there is only single-cell accommodation, but we are doing the very best we can in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is incredible that we are able to find such capital sums to do this, but it is a priority issue because Cork has needed a new prison for much longer than two and a half years. I have visited it on many occasions. Trying to walk around in there is like being in a warren because they have built additional space inside the walls. It is incredibly confined.
I can only imagine, when one is talking about in the main young men, the hyped-up tension. They are deprived of their liberty. Sometimes their relationships on the outside break down and they hear this through the grapevine and that increases the tension as well. A prison service is a high-pressure area in which to work. I am firmly convinced that the fines (amendment) Bill will make a significant impact on the prison population, as will the availability of community service and other areas where we can ask offenders to serve out their punishment delivered by the court. Equally, I have always believed that one third of those in prison should not be in there at all, and I still believe so.
I agree that inputs at an earlier stage would have had a greater impact, but the circumstances in which we find ourselves are what we must dealt with. We must ensure that those who are sentenced by the courts to imprisonment, whether one agrees with it or not, are safe and that their accommodation is reasonable. There is no disagreement on any of that.
I really appreciate the contributions made here today because it is not a subject with which everyone is comfortable. I make no apologies. I have always felt that the changes that need to be made in terms of who goes and does not go to prison are fundamental. The difficulty is that it is not only about the justice system. There are other issues as well.
I really believe there are offenders from whom society needs to be protected. Would any one of us who has looked at the gangland culture that has prevailed down through the years say that those offenders should be given community service? I would say not. In some circumstances, how we treat the prison population and prisoners in those circumstances is different.
One size does not fit all. In some cases, prison does work. Sometimes short, sharp sentences work. I do not think the long-term sentences without rehabilitation work. I take Deputy Mac Lochlainn's point. We have discharge plans for patients coming out of hospital. In the case of offenders spending considerable time in prison, surely the least we should expect is that there would be a transition plan for when they come out because sometimes their relationship is gone and, definitely, there is no work available.
Once again, I commend the Bill to the House. I hope it will be passed quickly, because it is necessary to go to tender and ensure the work starts on time.
As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 70 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.