The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter T.D., today published the Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons, Mr Michael Reilly. The Report relates to the performance of his statutory functions during the year 2010.

The Minister indicated that he welcomed the report of the Inspector which he described as balanced and helpful.

Minister Shatter said: "There is no doubt that overcrowding presents a significant challenge within our prison system.  Since my appointment it has been my intention to explore alternatives to custody as a means of reducing overcrowding while at the same time ensuring that those found guilty of serious offences continue to be imprisoned.

The recently published Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2011 will substantially reduce pressure on prisons by allowing for much greater use of Community Service Orders for those serving sentences of less than 12 months.  At the moment this accounts for over 13% of the prison population."

Accepting that there were serious problems to be addressed within the prison system and that some prisons had been singled out for particular criticism, the Minister pointed to the Inspector’s recent report on Mountjoy which clearly showed that improvements could be made in conditions through pro-active management.

The Minister continued "I am also committed to addressing the issue of in-cell sanitation as outlined in the Government Programme for National Recovery.  The Irish Prison Service is currently engaged in an extensive project to upgrade more than 100 cells at Mountjoy Prison to be completed by the end of Summer 2011. There are also a number of ongoing construction projects, including a new accommodation block at the Midlands prison which will provide an additional 300 places.

Combined, these measures will reduce pressure on our prisons and significantly increase the standard of accommodation. I have also recently established a Committee to review the Thornton Hall Project, to examine the need for new prison accommodation and whether work on the site at Thornton should proceed as initially planned. Their terms of reference specifically requires them to take into account the need for an adequate stock of prison accommodation that meets required standards and to look also at alternatives to custody. The Committee will complete its work by 1 July 2011.

Finally I welcome the Inspector’s proposal with regard to compliance by all prisons with best practice in specific areas by 1 July 2011. This includes the appropriate use of special cells, the introduction of proper complaint and disciplinary procedures and the introduction of appropriate procedures when death occurs in custody. The introduction of a common approach in these areas will greatly improve the way prisons are run and I look forward to hearing of progress in these areas".

30 May 2011