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Shatter responds to concerns about Irish prisons

Reports by the Department of Justice were published today and found that there were many areas to be praised – but also many that needed work.

File photo of a prison cell
File photo of a prison cell
Image: Paul Faith/PA Wire

LIFE INSIDE IRISH prisons is examined by visiting committees, and six of of their reports were published today.

You can read the reports  here. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD,  welcomed the reports of the Loughan House, Mountjoy, Portlaoise, St Patrick’s Institution, the Training Unit and Wheatfield Prison Visiting Committees.

Positive comments

He was pleased to note the positive comments about the working relationship between staff and prisoners, prison maintenance, services provided to prisoners and the kitchens in the prisons.

He was pleased about the positive comments on the refurbishment of the B Wing of Mountjoy Prison and the praise for the efforts of Wheatfield Prison management and staff to eradicate drugs and reduce violence in the prison.

The Minister acknowledged the concerns regarding staffing levels and the impact on workshops and the provision of Integrated Sentence Management (ISM) at Mountjoy Prison.

The Minister said that a new staffing structure and roster is being implemented across the prison service.

He added that it is envisaged that the vast majority of vacant staff posts in Work Training will be filled through the redeployment of clerks and the appointment of Work Training Officers (WTO) from a competition, and appointments will be made from this competition over the coming weeks.

Libraries and literacy

Regarding the concerns about the library and literacy levels in the Training Unit and Wheatfield, the Minister said that work is currently underway to draw up a new model for the delivery of a quality library service throughout the prisons.

In response to the Wheatfield Visiting Committee recommendation regarding the expansion of versions of the Building Better Lives Programme (BBL) the Minister stated that the programme will continue to be evaluated and the idea will be to continue to offer it to as many inmates as is possible.

On the complaints regarding visits, 23-hour lock up and prison discipline, Shatter said that the banning of visitors only happens in exceptional circumstances. An online booking facility for prison visits is being developed.

The Prison Service recognises the desirability of reducing the number of prisoners on protection, he said.

There is a three year plan that includes measures to increase prisoners’ progression through the system with a view to enhancing normalisation and re-integration “through appropriate assessment tools and placement decisions”.

A training programme is being developed in relation to disciplinary sanctions. The Minister also noted that a range of services are available which are “well placed to meet the needs of prisoners”, such as medical, psychiatric, probation and addiction services.

St Patrick’s

Shatter noted the commitment of the St Patrick’s Institution Visiting Committee to support the action plan put in place by the prison service in order to address the concerns raised by the Inspector of Prisons in his report on St Patricks Institution in 2012.

Shatter said that he is still in agreement with the Inspector that the complete closure of St Patrick’s is now required.

This will involve the transfer of all 17-year-olds currently serving a sentence in St Patrick’s to a dedicated unit in Wheatfield Prison and the transfer of the 18 to 20-year-olds to Wheatfield while Oberstown is being completed.

“Work is underway and it is anticipated that this can be achieved by the end of the year,” said the Minister.

On the Mountjoy Visiting Committee’s comments about the denial of internet access to prisoners, the Minister said he understands that the prison service is currently reviewing the provision of internet access to prisoners with a view to “substantially increasing the range of sites currently available”.

On complaints regarding the availability of Chaplains in Mountjoy Prison, the Minister stated that “a new model of service provision is currently being explored which should positively impact the service being provided.”

The reports, along with previous reports, are available on the Department’s website.

Read: Mountjoy prisoner on life support after suicide attempt>
Read: One prisoner and two officers injured when prison van overturned in Galway>

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