Written answers

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Prison Inspection Reports

11:00 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Question 13: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the actions that have been taken to implement the recommendations of the Prison Inspector following his recent report on Mountjoy Prison, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46239/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The recent report on Mountjoy Prison by the Inspector of Prisons has been considered by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service and his Senior Management Team. A number of the Inspector's recommendations have been implemented or are in the course of being implemented, subject to the availability of resources.

The Government has been acutely aware of the limitations of the existing Mountjoy Prison for some time and it was for this reason that the decision was taken to replace it with a completely new prison campus on a green field site at Thornton, North County Dublin. I am determined to push ahead with the Thornton project but in the intervening period, it is necessary to maintain Mountjoy as a prison.

The Irish Prison Service has been engaged in an extensive programme of investment in prisons infrastructure which has involved both the modernisation of the existing estate and the provision of extra prison spaces. Since 1997 in excess of 1,670 new prison spaces have come on stream in the prison system. These include the new prisons in Castlerea, the Midlands, Cloverhill, the Dóchas Centre and new accommodation blocks, wings or units in Limerick, Portlaoise and Castlerea prisons and at the open centres in Shelton Abbey and Loughan House.

Current projects will see a further 250 prison spaces provided in the short term by means of:

A new block in Wheatfield Prison which will accommodate approximately 200 prisoners.

The re-opening of the Separation Unit in Mountjoy which will provide an additional 50 spaces

In addition, work is expected to commence in 2010 on a new accommodation block in the Portlaoise/Midlands prisons complex which will provide 300 additional prison spaces.

To further reduce the volume of prisoners committed to Mountjoy on a daily basis, male offenders committed to prison by the District Courts sitting in Dun Laoghaire, Swords, Tallaght, Cloverhill and Blanchardstown will in future be committed to Wheatfield Prison. A suitable order to give effect to this operational change will be made by me when the additional capacity becomes available in Wheatfield Prison with the opening of the aforementioned new accommodation block at that location.

In June 2009 the Irish Prison Service tendered for the refurbishment of the Separation Unit in Mountjoy Prison with the intention of creating a specific unit within the prison for protection prisoners. Work in this regard commenced in September 2009 and is due to be completed shortly. This will provide 50 spaces with in-cell sanitation and secure exercise yards.

It is the intention of the Director General of the Irish Prison Service to use the re-commissioned Separation Unit to house protection prisoners thus enabling the provision of an enhanced regime giving greater out of cell time for such prisoners. The opening of this Unit will also allow for the introduction of a dedicated area for vulnerable prisoners. The feasibility of a dedicated committal area is also being examined.

The Director General has also instructed the Governor of Mountjoy to personally address all local management issues raised by the Inspector in his Report including matters relating to basic hygiene, cleanliness, accommodation of prisoners at night, implementation of Governor's Orders, maximum operation of regime's activities, maintenance and the investigation of prisoners' complaints.

In addition, the Fines Bill 2009 includes a number of non-custodial measures to deal with non-payment of fines and it is my intention to have the Fines Bill enacted as soon as possible. This will reduce the number of people committed to prison for non-payment of fines.

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