Written Answers. - Prison Visiting Committees.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

315 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the professional advice available to prison visiting committees to enable them to assess the quality of the medical services available to the prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4038/03]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

316 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the professional advice available to prison visiting committees to enable them to assess the quality of the educational facilities available to the prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4039/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 315 and 316 together.

As I previously explained to the House, a visiting committee is appointed to each prison under the Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925 and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order, 1925.

The function of visiting committees is to visit, at frequent intervals, the prison to which they are appointed and hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. They report to me any abuses observed or found by them in the prison and any repairs which they think may be urgently needed. The visiting committee has free access, either collectively or individually, to every part of its prison. In inspecting prisons, the visiting committees focus on issues such as the quality of accommodation and the catering, medical, educational and welfare services and recreational facilities.
Medical services in the prison system are provided by qualified medical practitioners, while educational services are, in the main, provided by the vocational educational committees. During the course of their inspections, the visiting committees meet the professional staff attached to the medical and educational services. Where difficulties are highlighted or identified, the issues can be raised by the committee with the local prison authorities or indeed may be referred to me as is provided under the legislation.