Check Against Delivery

To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline specifically the reasoning behind the renovation of Harristown House at Castlerea Prison, and for him to clarify if so-called ‘Lifers’ are to be its sole occupants

Senator John Kelly

The Minister has asked me to thank Senator Kelly for raising this issue on the adjournment, 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 respond directly to the Senator’s question as to whether or not only life-sentenced prisoners will be housed at Harristown House. Whilst the Minister’s officials are still considering options 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, Harristown House is a 22 roomed, two storey house constructed circa 1920.  The house is located directly adjacent to Castlerea Prison and until recently was used by the Probation Service to house people in their care.  At that time people, usually with drugs-related problems, were dealt with by the Probation Service at the house.  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.

Senator Kelly 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, 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. Prisoners in Harristown House will be employed in the orchard, the grounds, and local community projects under the control of the Industrial Manager.
The length of time there would obviously depend on a number of factors including, time already served and time left to serve,
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 Senator 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 the Minister’s 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, the Minister’s officials consider a number of factors 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 Senator 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 to lower security prisons and institutions will be considered and assessed.

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 is sure that the House will appreciate the benefits of this addition to the prison Estate, and I again thank Senator Kelly for raising same.