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Question

153. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will commit to a daily minimum of 12 hours out of cell activity for all prisoners, with an emphasis on education, training and work. [12670/16]

154. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will end the use of prolonged isolation of prisoners as a response to prisoner safety concerns. [12671/16]

Answer

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that there is no provision for solitary confinement of prisoners in their custody. However, the Deputy will appreciate that on occasion, it is necessary for vulnerable prisoners and others to be separated from the general prison population.
The restriction of a prisoner's regime can occur due to a number of factors including the protection of vulnerable prisoners. This is provided for under Rule 63 of the Prison Rules 2007. A prisoner may, either at his/her own request or when the Governor considers it necessary, in so far as is practicable and subject to the maintenance of good order and safe and secure custody, be kept separate from other prisoners who are reasonably likely to cause significant harm to him/her.
In addition, the Governor may decide, for the maintenance of good order in the prison, to remove a prisoner from general association or structured activity to reduce the negative effect that a prisoner or prisoners may have on the general population. This is provided for under Rule 62 of the Prison Rules 2007. There may also be a smaller number of prisoners who would be restricted for medical (Rule 64) or discipline reasons (Rule 67).
The fact that prisoners seeking protection are immediately separated from the general population or from specific prisoners identified as presenting a threat, clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Irish Prison Service to ensure their safety and security. The status of each prisoner on a restricted regime is regularly reviewed and they always have interaction and meaningful human contact with staff, chaplains if requested and medical services. If possible, prisoners can be transferred to other institutions where a restricted regime would not be necessary.
I am also advised by the Irish Prison Service that a census of restricted regime prisoners is published on a quarterly basis on their website www.irishprisons.ie. The latest restricted regime census was produced in April this year.
A group to examine these matters has been set up and is chaired by the Director General. Regular meetings are held and these have helped to focus on and reduce the number of prisoners on 23 hour lock up and to introduce measures to reduce the number of prisoners held on restricted regimes. Since the introduction of the group, the number of prisoners on 22/23 hour lock up has decreased by 126 or 60% from 211 to 85. Question No. 155 answered with Question No. 129.