208. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which adequate prison accommodation remains available or is likely to become available in the short to medium term; if this is likely to meet requirements in full; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35728/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I wish to advise the Deputy that as of 9th October 2015 there were 3,693 prisoners in custody with a bed capacity of 4,126, which equates to an occupancy rate of 90%. I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that it is continuing to reduce the capacity of our prisons to align with the Inspector of Prisons recommended bed capacity of 3,982 in so far as this is compatible with public safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system. Significant decreases in prison numbers have taken place over recent years. The overall daily average number in custody for 2014 was 3,915 compared to 4,390 in 2011, a decrease of 10.8%. The Deputy may wish to note that the number in custody reached a peak of 4,621 on 23rd February 2011. On the 9th October 2015, there were 928 less prisoners in custody, a decrease of 20%.
The Programme for Government outlines the commitment of this Government to finding alternatives to custody as a means of reducing overcrowding. We continue to ensure that violent offenders and other serious offenders serve appropriate prison sentences while at the same time switching away from prison sentences and towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders.
Alternatives to custody continue to be pursued and legislation has already been passed. This includes the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 which requires the sentencing judge to consider the imposition of community service where a custodial sentence of 12 months or less is being considered.
The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 provides that the Court imposing a fine shall take into account a person's financial circumstances. It further provides, inter alia, that where a person fails to pay a fine by the due date, the Court may make an attachment order to earnings as a means of recovering the unpaid fine. As a result of this legislation, it is expected that we will see a reduction in the number of committals to prisons on short sentences.
In conjunction with the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service has continued the national roll out of the Community Return Programme, an incentivised scheme for earned temporary release under which carefully selected offenders can be granted structured temporary release in return for supervised community service. In addition to this programme, Community Support Schemes have been set up in Cork Prison, Mountjoy Campus, West Dublin Campus and Limerick Prisons, the aim of which is to reduce recidivism rates by arranging for additional support structures and provide for a more structured form of temporary release.
In tandem with efforts to reduce the numbers in custody, huge improvements have been made to prison conditions in recent years. Overcrowding has been eliminated in Mountjoy Prison and priority has been given to addressing capacity issues in Cork, Limerick and the Dóchas Centre.
The Irish Prison Service Strategy Statement 2012/2015 identified the elimination of slopping out in the prison estate as a priority. A new accommodation block was opened in the Midlands Prison in December 2012. The opening of this new accommodation allowed the Prison Service to reduce the capacity of both Cork and Limerick Prison resulting in the closure of the antiquated B wing of Limerick Prison. The closure of the B wing effectively halved the number of prisoners who do not have in cell sanitation in Limerick Prison.
The IPS capital programme has identified the replacement of B Division as a priority and plans are being advanced in this regard. The building programme for the Prison on completion, will replace both the A & B Wings with a 150 cell block and will end the practice of slopping out in Limerick Prison.
All of the wings in Mountjoy Prison have been completely refurbished thereby facilitating the elimination of the practice of slopping out in the prison. A completely new replacement prison in Cork is almost complete and will be operational in early 2016. The enabling works for the redevelopment of Limerick Prison are scheduled to begin in 2016 with the main construction phase to start in early 2017. Significant building and refurbishment projects are also scheduled for 2016 in Castlerea Prison.