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'Slopping out' to end in Mountjoy this year

Meanwhile, Operation Acer has seen a reduction of burglaries by more than 10 per cent since its introduction.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

IRISH PRISONS WILL see a number of changes this year, including the ending of slopping out in Mountjoy, the Justice Minister has said.

Justice and Equality Minister Alan Shatter made the comments in a speech as the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality discussed the 2013 estimates for the justice vote group.

Prisons

Shatter admitted there are “less than satisfactory prison conditions in both Cork and Limerick prisons”, but said that it was still possible to reduce overcrowding in 2012, with reductions in average daily occupancy rates of 12 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

He described this as “only a temporary measure” and said that a capital budget of €23.1 million has been provided for prisons building projects in 2013.

Some of the recent moves include a major capital project to provide an accommodation block providing 300 prisons spaces at the Midlands Prison, which was opened in December 2012. Construction of a new Cork Prison is due to commence in October this year.

The construction of a new wing at Limerick Prison will see its tender process commencing shortly.

The refurbishment project, including the installation of in-cell sanitation, in Mountjoy Prison is continuing.

“I am pleased to say that slopping out will end in Mountjoy Prison later this year, when work on the final wing, the D wing, takes place,” said Shatter.

He added that a number of initiatives have been introduced by the Prisons Service to ensure better outcomes for offenders.

These include increased participation in structured activities, and an integrated sentence management system. An incentivised regimes policy has been introduced, which provides for a differentiation of privileges between prisoners according to their level of engagement with services and quality of behaviour.

The Community Return Project, operated in conjunction with the Probation Service, provides for earned and structured temporary release to be offered to offenders who pose no threat to society, in return for supervised community service.

Recruitment of Prison Administrative Support Officers is continuing. These officers, who are being redeployed from elsewhere in the Civil Service, will carry out administrative tasks previously undertaken by Prison Officers.

This means that fully-trained prison clerks can be released from administration tasks to essential front line duties, and the new grade will deliver €3.5 million per annum in payroll savings.

Budgets

Speaking about this year’s budget, Shatter said:

The reality is that we are now working with reduced numbers and budgets at a time when demand for services across the Justice Sector, and other sectors, is actually increasing. Thus, despite reducing our borrowing, we are still dependent on €12 billion of bailout funding this year.

The largest part of the Justice budget goes to An Garda Síochána, being almost €1.4 billion in gross terms in 2013.

He said that Operation Acer, which forms part of Operation Fiacla in the Dublin Region, is having a positive impact on burglary rates in the Dublin area. Burglaries have reduced by more than 10 per cent since the operation’s introduction.

Shatter said he would leave no stone unturned to provide the necessary resources for the Commissioner to carry out the work of the Force.

In particular, I will continue to ensure that there is additional funding available for the garda fleet; €5 million in 2013 on top of €3 million in additional funding in 2012.

He agreed that the force is challenged by the number of Garda vehicles being decommissioned, but the Government is “well aware” of the importance of gardaí being able to respond effectively to criminal activity.

The gross budget allocated to the Courts Vote in 2013 is €104.959 million.

The Courts Service has embarked on a significant transformation programme in recent years. While some court venues are being closed, seven court building projects are being progressed under the Government Infrastructure Stimulus Package.

In conclusion, Shatter said:

It is simply not an option to continue blindly with old models and ways of doing things. Reform and more efficient ways of delivering services are crucial to the operation of the sector.

Read: Plan for new Cork prison signed-off by Oireachtas Committee>

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