The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, today welcomed publication of the reports of the Loughan House, Mountjoy, Portlaoise, St. Patrick’s Institution, the Training Unit and Wheatfield Prison Visiting Committees.
The function of Visiting Committees is to visit the prison to which they are appointed and hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. The Committees play a vital role in ensuring the quality of accommodation and catering, medical, educational and welfare services and recreational facilities.
The Minister said "I welcome the reports and wish to thank the Visiting Committees for their valuable work. I am pleased to note the positive comments regarding the working relationship between staff and prisoners, prison maintenance, services provided to prisoners and the kitchens which operate at a very high level in the prisons."
The Minister also said that "I am particularly pleased to note the positive comments in terms of the complete refurbishment of the B Wing of Mountjoy Prison. This programme has resulted in the provision of in cell sanitation facilities to 95 cells and is a significant step towards the objective of eliminating slopping out in our prisons. The general praise for the efforts of Wheatfield Prison management and staff to eradicate drugs and reduce violence in the prison are also very welcome".
The Minister acknowledged the concerns raised regarding staffing levels and in particular the impact on workshops and the provision of Integrated Sentence Management (ISM) at Mountjoy Prison "As I have said on several occasions, ISM goes hand in hand with the Incentivised Regime. It entails a new emphasis on prisoners assuming greater personal responsibility for their own development through effective engagement with specialist and non-specialist services in the prisons.
A new staffing structure and roster is being implemented across the Prison Service under the implementation of the terms of the Public Service Agreement 2010 – 2014. It is envisaged that the vast majority of vacant staff posts in Work Training will be filled through the redeployment of clerks and the appointment of Work Training Officers (WTO) from a competition. It is expected that WTO appointments will be made from this competition over the coming weeks."
The concerns raised in relation to the library and literacy levels in the Training Unit and Wheatfield were also noted and the Minister stated that "Libraries in prisons are regarded as key elements in the process of normalisation and rehabilitation for prisoners. Work is currently underway to draw up a new model for the delivery of a quality library service throughout the prisons, in partnership with local library services, taking account of best practice. In terms of literacy levels, Toe by Toe which provides information for anyone involved in the teaching of adults with specific learning difficulties (Dyslexia) has been trialled in several prisons including Wheatfield and is currently being extended to a number of others including the Training Unit. The programme was devised for people with dyslexia and is beneficial for developing reading skills." Education in the Training Unit is focused on pre-release preparation and preparing prisoners for the transition back to the community.
In response to the Wheatfield Visiting Committee recommendation regarding the expansion of versions of the Building Better Lives Programme (BBL) the Minister stated that "The BBL is a very important programme in resettlement planning for medium/high risk violent offenders, many of whom participate in the parole board process . The programme will continue to be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness and the idea will be to continue to offer as many inmates as is possible the chance to undertake it."
The Minister responded to the complaints regarding visits, 23 hour lock up and prison discipline by saying that "The importance of family contact for those in prison is recognised and the banning of visitors only happens in exceptional circumstances. Screened visits may also be applied. Any visitor refused a visit or subject to screened visits has the option of appealing the decision to the prison Governor. Improvements to the Visits IT system are currently being developed including an online booking facility. The Prison Service recognises the desirability of reducing the number of prisoners on protection. Their Three Year Plan includes measures to increase prisoners’ progression through the system with a view to enhancing normalisation and re-integration through appropriate assessment tools and placement decisions. A training programme is being developed in relation to the imposition of disciplinary sanctions, the issues raised will be covered in that programme which will roll out in the coming months."
A range of services are available which are well placed to meet the needs of prisoners e.g. medical, psychiatric, probation and addiction services. The Health Service Executive (HSE) provides a consultant led in reach addiction psychiatric service in Wheatfield while Merchants Quay Ireland has a contract to provide addiction counselling services in all prisons except Arbour Hill. Optical services are currently provided on an in reach basis for individual prisons by way of local agreement with optometrists. A tender process for the provision of optical services will be concluded shortly and will result in contracted providers of optical services being in place presently.
The Minister notes the commitment of the St. Patrick’s Institution Visiting Committee to support the Action Plan put in place by the Irish Prison Service in order to address the concerns raised by the Inspector of Prisons in his Inspection Report on St. Patricks Institution, June 2012. The Minister went on to say, however, that "In his Annual Report 2012 which I published on 3rd of July 2013, the Inspector has called for the closure of St. Patrick’s Institution. As I said then, I am satisfied that the complete closure of St. Patrick’s and the dispersal of all prisoners and staff is now required. Pending the development of new facilities in Oberstown in mid 2014, for which the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs has responsibility, this will in the interim involve the transfer of all 17 year olds currently serving a sentence in St. Patrick’s Institution to a dedicated Unit in Wheatfield Prison and the transfer of the 18 to 20 year old population to Wheatfield also. Work is underway and it is anticipated that this can be achieved by the end of the year."
Responding to the Mountjoy Visiting Committee’s comments in relation to the denial of internet access to prisoners, the Minister said "I understand that the Irish Prison Service is currently reviewing the provision of internet access to prisoners with a view to substantially increasing the range of sites currently available. It must be appreciated that security concerns take priority in the context of preventing prisoner access to inappropriate and unauthorised sites and in the safety and wellbeing of members of the public, particularly the victims of crime."
Finally, in response to complaints received regarding the availability of Chaplains in Mountjoy Prison, the Minister stated that "the provision of pastoral care by the Chaplaincy Service is regarded as an essential service to prisoners. A new model of service provision is currently being explored which should positively impact the service being provided."
The reports, along with previous reports, are available on the Department’s website www.justice.ie
12 September, 2013