Current staffing levels and configurations for each of the prisons were established in the context of the change agreement reached with the Prison Officers Association in 2005. The agreement involved substantial changes to staff deployment, which could only be achieved over time. The staffing level for each prison was determined following an analysis of all the tasks that were required to run the individual prison. At present, staffing levels and configurations are quite close to what was envisaged when the agreement was reached with the Prison Officers Association.
The Deputy will appreciate that in a large organisation such as the Irish Prison Service, surpluses and shortfalls in staffing have to be managed on an ongoing basis and there will be short periods where staff levels are either under or above target levels. The staffing levels for each prison at the end of each year are set out in the table circulated with this answer.
In addition to the staff assigned to each of the prisons there are also staff assigned to a range of important support prison services. These include 145 staff assigned to the prison service escort corps, which is responsible for transporting prisoners between prisons and to courts, hospitals and other destinations, 157 staff assigned to the operational support group, which is responsible for security screening and security searching within prisons, 28 staff assigned to the building services division, which is responsible for building and maintenance, and 45 of other prison grade staff that are assigned to tasks related to training, procurement and logistics.
I have been informed by the Irish Prison Service that in November 2009, the number of staff serving in the prison service as a whole was 3,417. The equivalent figures in November 2008 were 3,506.5 and for November 2007 the staffing complement was 3,347.5.
Increases in staffing levels, where they occurred, have been related in the main to the opening of new additional prisoner accommodation at these prisons. This includes the opening of new prisoner accommodation at Loughan House and Shelton Abbey in 2008, and Castlerea and Portlaoise in 2009. Other factors that have led to increases in staff numbers on a temporary basis include the practice of initially assigning new recruits to large Dublin prisons for a period before they, or more senior colleagues, are assigned elsewhere in the system. This has led to temporary increases in large Dublin prisons such as Mountjoy and Cloverhill at certain times.
The staffing levels in each prison are affected by a number of factors that include retirements, recruitment and transfers. During 2009, in particular, there was a significantly higher level of retirements than would be expected in a normal year. It is expected that by the end of 2009 approximately 200 staff will have retired from the prison service. This has been offset by the recruitment of 122 recruit prison officers during 2009, which built on significant recruitment that took place in 2008.
For that reason, the prison service has been able to absorb the high levels of retirements during 2009 without an adverse impact on staffing levels.