Check Against Delivery

Topical Issues

"The need for the Minister for Justice to outline the plans which the Irish Prison Service has for the future use of Harristown House, Castlerea"
– Deputy Denis Naughten

Response by Minister of State, Mr John Perry TD, on behalf of Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Mr Alan Shatter TD

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter, TD, is unable to be here today due to official business elsewhere.  He has however asked me to thank the Deputy for raising this matter particularly as it offers him the opportunity to clarify the record in relation to a number of reports which have recently appeared in both the national and local media.

At the outset, the Minister wishes to deal with the suggestion which has frequently been mentioned that only life-sentenced prisoners will be housed at Harristown House.  While several options remain under consideration for the optimal use of the facility, I can say that I am advised that the facility will not be restricted to housing prisoners in that category.

By way of background information, Harristown House is a 22 roomed two storey house constructed circa 1920.  The house is located directly adjacent to Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon and until recently was used by the Probation Service to house people in their care.   In that context, people, usually with drug related problems and connected issues were managed by the Probation Service at the house.   I understand that the house was unoccupied and unused for approximately four years and was in a state of considerable disrepair following water damage incurred as a result of the very harsh winter of 2010/2011.

The Deputy will agree, I am sure, that in the current economic climate, it is undesirable for State-owned property to be left unoccupied and unused in circumstances where a potential or possible use for that property has been identified.  In that regard, following an examination by the Irish Prison Service, it was considered that the property was suitable for refurbishment so that it could be used as a low security accommodation unit for 15 to 18 prisoners who could be located there as part of a scheme to encourage good behaviour and trustworthiness amongst prisoners as part of their sentence management.

The works on Harristown House commenced in November 2012 and I am advised that those works should be completed in March 2013.  Part of the works associated with the refurbishment includes the installation of CCTV equipment to monitor the house and surrounding areas, including all entrances to, and exits from, the house. 

In that regard, while no decision has yet been made as to the category of prisoner (by reference to sentence length, nature of offence, etc.) to be housed there, I can assure the Deputy that the normal considerations in relation to risk assessment shall apply before any prisoner is transferred to the house.  In the day-to-day management of the prison system, these risk assessments are made on a regular basis by officials in the Irish Prison Service in, for example, considering the suitability of the transfer of prisoners from closed prisons and institutions to open prisons and lower-security facilities.

When considering the suitability of prisoners for transfer to lower-security institutions, a number of factors are taken into consideration including –

· The safety of the public (specifically flight risk)
· Nature and gravity of the offence
· Length of sentence served and remaining.

Therefore, while I cannot at this stage inform the Deputy as to the precise type of prisoner to be housed at Harristown House, I can advise that the usual stringent eligibility criteria which apply to other prisoners being moved within the prison system to lower security prisons and institutions will be taken into account, fully considered, and assessed.

It is worth mentioning that Open Centres and lower-level security settings are vital tools in the re-integration and rehabilitation of prisoners.  They encourage an ethos of independent living and offer a transition between custody and community/family life.  When the refurbishment works at Harristown House are completed and the house is ready for occupation, it will provide an additional and valuable resource to the Irish Prison Service in managing this transition from prison life to open living within the community.

The Minister appreciates the Deputy’s interest in this matter and would like to thank him again for raising it.

27 February 2013