Tuesday, 11 July 2017
Department of Justice and Equality
281. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the procedures in place for dealing with family visits of life sentence prisoners with reference to the account taken of the psychological impact on children of long term estrangement and lack of physical contact with a parent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32177/17]
I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that its Strategic Plan 2016-2018 sets out the commitment of the Irish Prison Service to strengthen family supports to facilitate on-going contact with prisoners, including those serving life sentences, while in custody and their reintegration post release, with appropriate supports and programmes.
The Director General of the Irish Prison Service established the Families & Imprisonment Group, and tasked the group with examining existing visiting facilities for all prisoners and in particular to address the needs of children and families as highlighted in the report published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust titled "Picking up the Pieces: The Rights and Needs of Children and Families Affected by Imprisonment".
The Families & Imprisonment Implementation Group is currently overseeing the delivery of the actions identified and is chaired by a prison Governor and includes representatives from the Childhood Development Initiative, the Psychology Service, the Probation Service, the Prison Officer's Association and Tusla. A key goal is to establish a model of through-care to parents returning to the community in partnership with Tusla and other community based organisations. A number of significant objectives have been achieved so far; most notably enhanced staff training, delivery of the ‘Parents Plus’ parenting programme on a pilot basis in Limerick Prison, the establishment of more family-friendly visits, and refurbishment of visit spaces.
Following a period of consultation with a range of non-government organisations, the Irish Prison Service forged a partnership with the Childhood Development Initiative and the Parents Plus Charity to introduce a dedicated family and imprisonment programme on a pilot basis called 'Family Links' which commenced in Limerick Prison in September 2014 with the aim to improve the visiting experience for families, improve staff awareness of the effects of imprisonment on families, and to support the family unit with the introduction of a parenting programme.
The Parents Plus Charity and Childhood Development Initiative have worked with the Irish Prison Service to tailor the ‘Parents Plus’ parenting programme to meet the need of parents in prison. Family Liaison Officers in Limerick Prison facilitate parenting skills course for prisoners, and ‘Bedford Row’ charity works simultaneously to deliver the parenting programme in the community. This programme has been successfully delivered to 24 prisoners. An evaluation of the Family Links Programme in Limerick was launched by the Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald TD on Monday 13th February 2017.
Enhancements to visit facilities in a number of prisons is being gradually rolled out under the Small Works Scheme. Funding was awarded to St. Vincent de Paul to extend their Visitor Centre facilities to Wheatfield Prison. The Irish Prison Service has allocated funding to appoint a Family Links Coordinator and to extend the Family Links model to Wheatfield Place of Detention and to Cork Prison in 2017, to include family related courses and programmes, staff training and support, community follow-up and partnership, communications and enhanced visiting facilities.
All of our prisons facilitate visits on Saturdays to take account of the needs of families visiting persons in custody. Sunday visits are allowed to the two Open Centres (Loughan House and Shelton Abbey) and to enhanced prisoners in Cork and Portlaoise Prisons