Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Prison Accommodation Provision
9. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if she is concerned at the current limited capacity of the Irish Prison Service; if she will provide in tabular form the number of prisoners currently on temporary release broken down by prison; the type of offence the prisoner was convicted of; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35370/14]
What is the view of the Minister and the Government on the current limited capacity available to the Irish Prison Service? We can bear in mind that last July, capacity was reached and exceeded in the prisons at Mountjoy, Cloverhill, Cork, Limerick and Arbour Hill. Will the Minister comment on the policy of affording prisoners temporary release to deal with the capacity issue.
I can advise the Deputy that on 22 September 2014, the bed capacity of the Irish Prison Service was 4,120, with the number of people in custody at 3,797, representing 92% of capacity. There are 601 people on temporary release but on the same date in 2011, there were 718 prisoners on temporary release, with 4,319 in custody. There has been a 16.3% reduction from that date to the present date for those on temporary release. The numbers of people on temporary release have been falling substantially.
The Government is clearly committed to capital investment in the prison estate and building work on a new prison in Cork is well under way. As I have mentioned, D wing in Mountjoy is being refurbished. These will provide further accommodation options for prisoners. The inspector has focused particularly on the Dóchas women's centre and indicated that there is potential and actual overcrowding there, with an open centre needed for women prisoners. We are working on that.
I have mentioned the Strategic Review of Penal Policy report, which I launched last week. It recommends very strongly the development of appropriate non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment and a greater focus on step-down facilities and supported accommodation. It also recommends the use of more community-based open conditions for female offenders. That is important. A business case for the Limerick prison project is currently being considered by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There is work to be done in Limerick and when that project is complete, there will be additional spaces for the female prisoner population.
Will the Minister be a little more exact about the extra capacity which will flow from the example of the Limerick prison just cited, the refurbishment of the D wing in Mountjoy and the redevelopment of the Cork prison?
Does the Minister have any figures for the level of re-offending while prisoners are on temporary release? This is an important issue. I accept that there has to be a limit to the capacity to be made available and that numbers go up and down. People are concerned that some re-offending occurs while people are on temporary release, some of it very serious.
The bed capacity within the Irish Prison Service estate is 4,120. The Inspector of Prisons has recommended that the bed capacity be 3,976. The occupancy levels generally are between 92% and 95%. It is intended to align the capacity of our prisons with the guidelines laid down by the inspector of prisons. There have to be enough prison spaces to be compatible with public safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system because the prisons must accept those referred to them. The programme for Government outlines the commitment of Government to finding alternatives to custody. If I have time, I will comment on the Deputy’s point about temporary release.
I would appreciate if the Minister could reply to my question on temporary release.
What is the progress of the business case for Limerick Prison? What is the procedure from now and how long will it take to assess the business case and roll out the development plan?
The Minister alluded to the Dóchas centre and the recommendation in the prison review report on an open prison centre for female prisoners. This is very important. Shelton Abbey is a step-down facility for male prisoners. While the regime in Dóchas is not as authoritarian or rigid as that in Mountjoy or other centres there are nonetheless long-term prisoners there who should be rehabilitated outside that centre. There are also young drug offenders who would be more appropriately placed in centres such as Tiglin. I would like to hear a more definitive commitment to a step-down prison centre for female prisoners.
I am involved in budgetary discussions in regard to Limerick Prison. In the initial phase several million euro would need to be allocated to further the project. I will keep the Deputy informed about that. It is important to make progress on improving and developing the facilities and further capital investment would be needed to do that. I hope we will be in a position to do so in the not too distant future.
On temporary release, it does not follow that a prisoner will receive temporary release even if that is recommended. Each application for temporary release has to be examined very closely on its merits and public safety is a key consideration. Reviewable temporary release, coupled with a requirement to do community service work, is being developed in the community return programme. The evidence from the research to date shows that those who get involved with community return schemes during their temporary release run far less risk of re-offending and being readmitted to prison. These are very worthwhile, tested projects as opposed to a revolving door.
In response to Deputy Timmins, I am committed to ensuring that there is a step-down centre, an open prison for women and a group within the Irish Prison Service has started to examine that. I hope we can make progress on it very quickly. The type of centre needed would not have to be very large. The numbers would be relatively small. There is overcrowding in the women’s prison, which was established in 1999. That does need to be dealt with and I agree with the Deputy that many of the women there could be better helped and facilitated in dealing with drug addiction and various other issues in such a setting.