The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, today published the Interim Report on the Dóchas Centre by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly.

The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory independent office established under the Prisons Act, 2007. The Inspector's key role is to carry out regular inspections of prisons and to submit an Annual Report to the Minister. The Inspector may also investigate any matter arising out of the management or operation of a prison and submit a report on any such investigation.

Minister Shatter welcomed the Report and said, "I have studied the Report and am grateful to the Inspector for his work in this regard. His work is much appreciated by me and invaluable in providing effective independent oversight of our prisons. I look forward to the Inspector’s comprehensive report on the Dóchas Centre in six months time."

The Minister has noted the Inspector’s positive comments in relation to the response of prison management, campus management and the Irish Prison Service to concerns raised by him in previous reports regarding the Dóchás Centre such as homelessness for women prisoners on release, overcrowding and the negative impact this can have on prisoners.

Minister Shatter said "I have met with the Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Michael Donnellan, and have discussed the content of the Report with him. The Director General has assured me that the concerns raised by the Inspector are being dealt with. In particular, concerns raised in terms of the general maintenance of the Dóchas Centre and housekeeping matters have been addressed. In addition, a major refurbishment programme has been undertaken by the Irish Prison Service to upgrade kitchens and the reception area."

As highlighted by the Inspector in his report, the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2012 – 2015 contains a commitment to work in partnership with the Probation Service and other stakeholders in order to develop a strategy for dealing with women offenders. Specifically, the Irish Prison Service has engaged with a number of agencies in order to put in place a targeted response to homelessness for women.

The Inspector has called for the Courts to have a range of options for dealing with women sentenced to periods of up to one year. Minister Shatter is committed to pursuing alternatives to custody and a number of legislative initiatives have been taken to help address this problem. The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act, 2011 requires judges when considering imposing a sentence of imprisonment of 12 months or less to first consider the appropriateness of community service as an alternative to imprisonment. In addition a major reform of the fines system is provided for in the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill 2013. The Bill provides for the imposition of community service orders where a person fails to pay a fine and the court is of the view that it would not be appropriate to make either an attachment order or a recovery order.

The Bill also provides for an enhanced instalment payment regime which will allow everyone on whom a fine is imposed to pay the fine by instalments over 12 months. It is expected that these measures, taken together, will substantially reduce the incidence of committal to prison for non-payment of fines. 

Speaking on this, Minister Shatter concluded "It is important that serious offenders serve appropriate prison sentences, however, for non-violent and less serious offenders we must switch away from prison sentences and towards less costly non-custodial options. This will result in a reduction in the prison population and will help to alleviate overcrowding. In addition, I have established a working group to carry out an all encompassing strategic review of penal policy incorporating an examination and analysis of all aspects of penal policy including prevention, sentencing policies, alternatives to custody, accommodation and regimes, support for reintegration and rehabilitation and any special issues relating to female offenders and prisoners. I expect the group to submit their report to me in early 2014."

The Report is available on the Department’s website – www.justice.ie.

3 December 2013

ENDS