Tuesday, 30 June 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
290. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if her attention has been drawn to the fact that access to prisoners by addiction practitioners working for the community prison links service has not been consistently available across all prisons since the onset of Covid-19, in particular in Mountjoy and Wheatfield prisons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12951/20]
291. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will direct that prisons include the community prison links service on the list of professional contacts for prisoners in order that access to clients can be had via telephone and more comprehensively post-Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12952/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 290 and 291 together.
I am informed by the Irish Prison Service that Community Prison Links is primarily a community-based programme that works with people in the community around addiction issues. In some cases the organisation continues to work with individuals in the event they enter into the custody of certain prisons in the State. As Community Prison Links is primarily community-based, and only available in a limited number of prisons, the Irish Prison Service does not intend to make the service available on the prisoner phone system. However, I am advised that the situation will be kept under review.
Regarding access to prisons, as the Deputy will appreciate, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic a range of measures including restrictions on access to prisons have been required to protect our prison population, in line with public health advice.
I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that, throughout the Covid-19 crisis, every attempt has been made to maintain as many therapeutic services as possible for the whole prison population. These include services such as healthcare, psychology, psychiatry and drug counselling. I am informed that new approaches were introduced to maintain and deliver these services during the pandemic, including innovations including telephone and video facilities for as many services as possible.
I and the Irish Prison Service appreciate that many services are eager to resume contact with prisoners. I am assured that every effort is currently being made to broaden access and reinstate as many services as possible in a safe, controlled and appropriate manner and that services will be facilitated, insofar as is possible in line with national and international best practice guidelines. However, the Deputy will appreciate that such steps pose a number of challenges in a prison environment and must be carefully calibrated in line with ongoing risk assessments. The Irish Prison Service advises me that in this context, it will not be expected that all services could be afforded these opportunities, as the Irish Prison Service is limited in both time availability and the safe logistical access of prisoners to these services.