Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Question 235: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will implement in full the recent report into a prison (details supplied) by the Inspector of Prisons; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 16 of the recommendations are cost neutral; if his further attention has been drawn to the constant overcrowding in the prison; his plans to open the separation unit in the prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46910/09]
I refer the Deputy to my answer to Parliamentary Question No. 13 of 10 December, 2009. As I indicated to the House on that occasion 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.
I want to reiterate that the Government is acutely aware of the limitations of the existing Mountjoy Prison. That is why 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.
Let me again repeat that 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. This is evidenced by the fact that since 1997 in excess of 1,670 new prison spaces have come on stream in the prison system. For example, we have built new prisons in Castlerea, the Midlands, Cloverhill, the DÃ³chas 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.
I am glad to say that 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; and
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.
Furthermore in order to 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.
I have already communicated to the House that the Director General of the Irish Prison Service has advised me that he will 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 Governors Orders, maximum operation of regimes activities, maintenance and the investigation of prisoners complaints.
The Deputy will also be aware that 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 at the earliest time possible . I am confident that the measures in this Bill will reduce the number of people committed to prison for non payment of fines.