Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
I have acknowledged in this House on many occasions that our prisoner numbers have increased quite significantly in more recent years. Indeed, this situation is particularly apparent over the past 12 months during which time the total number in custody has increased by 436. This represents an 11% increase in the numbers in custody. That said prison overcrowding is not unique to this jurisdiction, rather it is an international issue that has been widely acknowledged, including by the Inspector of Prisons in his 2008 Annual Report.
There is no doubting the fact that the extensive investment in the criminal justice system, from extra GardaÃ, targeting of criminal gangs, and the appointment of additional judges and the creation of more court venues etc., has led to a significant growth in the number of offfenders coming into the prison system. Just one statistic is worth citing in this context: approximately 80% of those in prison are now serving sentences of 12 months or more. Clearly this shows that the vast bulk of our prisoner population is made up of offenders who have been convicted of more serious offences. The courts, who are independent in their functions, deal with each case on the facts and the sentence imposed in any case, following a finding of guilt, is entirely a matter for the Judiciary.
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, close to 1,800 new prison spaces have been provided. These include the new prisons in Castlerea, the Midlands, Cloverhill, the DÃ³chas Centre and new accommodation in Limerick, Portlaoise and Castlerea prisons and at the open centres in Shelton Abbey and Loughan House. This is a significant investment to improve and modernise our prisons.
Current projects will see in excess 200 prison spaces provided in the short term by means of the opening of a new block in Wheatfield. In addition, we hope to proceed in late 2010 with a new accommodation block in the Portlaoise/Midlands prisons complex which will provide 300 prison spaces in the medium term. Also in the short term, work is due to commence on converting an administrative building on the DÃ³chas site into a new accommodation block. This accommodation will provide approximately 50 spaces later this year. Again I am on record in this House confirming that the development of the new prison campus at Thornton Hall, County Dublin will be built on a phased basis and will replace the outmoded Mountjoy campus. The Thornton campus will be designed to meet the highest international standards. The new prison facility will provide accommodation for 1,400 cells with operational flexibility to accommodate up to 2,200 in a range of security settings.