That Seanad Éireann notes the recommendations made by the Inspector of Prisons and places of detention for the year 2003-04; and regrets how few of the recommendations made by him in his first annual report for 2002-03 have been implemented.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to the House. Perhaps there will be more tranquility than if other Ministers had come in here. Sometimes the Minister of State has a better effect on me than others.
I tabled this motion because an issue that concerns me about the Houses of the Oireachtas is that we frequently commission reports which, when published, enable us for some reason to think we have done something. However, we have done nothing unless we look at the recommendations made in the report and discuss them. This is the reason I was very disappointed that last year the report by the Inspector of Prisons was not discussed. I was determined this year when the second report was published that it would be discussed here. I had similar trouble with the reports of the Inspector of Mental Institutions. It took me a couple of years to get them discussed. They had never been discussed in the Houses of the Oireachtas although they have been published for decades. It is important that we look at these reports.
I shall concentrate mainly on the recommendations made by the inspector. It is well to take the two reports together because the third recommendation of the 2003-04 report by Mr. Justice Kinlen is that there should be implementation of the recommendations in his first report or an explanation given as to why they are not being implemented. If one looks at the first report it is clear that little of it has been implemented. While I am interested in the amendment tabled by the Government it is not relevant to most of the recommendations. The first and more important recommendation the inspector would like to have implemented is that his position should be made statutory and independent. This is not a new idea by Mr. Justice Kinlen as it was suggested by the Whitaker report in 1985 that we should have an inspector of prisons and that person should be appointed on a statutory basis and independent. According to the inspector this can be provided for in a schedule to any Finance Bill and does not have to wait for a prisons Bill, although a prisons Bill has been published recently and this provision has not been included.
An independent budget could be provided each year by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in consultation with the Minister for Finance. Mr. Justice Kinlen said it is urgent that this should happen. I agree with that recommendation. The more one reads through the reports the more one sees the difficulties Mr. Justice Kinlen had in regard to staff, office equipment and his relationship with the prisons inspectorate within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Page 35 of the first annual report of the inspector of prisons and places of detention for the year 2002-03 reads:
The Prison Service and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have been slow to provide any information to the Inspectorate. The fact that they wanted me to take six months off to read myself into the job and wanted me to go on a tour of Western Australia and possibly New Zealand shows their peculiar mindset. While many interpretations will be put on these offers, I took them as meaning that I was not to do any real work.
He pointed out to them that he had already been called to the Western Australian Bar so that he had experience there and felt no need to go and could read himself into his brief in a much shorter period than six months. Also he has problems in that various civil servants decided what was appropriate for him to do. This got to such a pitch at one stage that he had to get a freedom of information order to find out what was in a memo that he considered was relevant to him between one civil servant and another within the Prison Service. That cannot be considered a satisfactory way for any system to operate and the sooner it is changed the better.
When the Council of Europe committee on the prevention of torture or inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment came here a few years ago it was told we hoped to have a prisons service Bill enacted during 2000. While Mr. Justice Kinlen was appointed inspector in April 2000 nothing has happened in the way of bringing forward this legislation. This is one of the most urgent issues that should be provided for in the prisons Bill.
An important issue in the reports is that Mr. Justice Kinlen keeps asking whether the taxpayer is getting adequate value for money considering that it costs over €50,000 per year to keep a person imprisoned. A huge amount of the money appears to be spent on administration. When we get down to the coalface there are other difficulties regarding remuneration or there are no people employed who could provide some of the services that are so badly needed.
The inspector was also told it was not appropriate for him to have anything to say about the prison overtime bill for prison warders or the dispute taking place with the Minister. One wonders what his role was given that he was effectively ruled out of dealing with these issues.
Another important recommendation is in regard to the probation and welfare service. It has to deal with far more than prisons as it has to deal with family court cases. It is grossly understaffed. I am repeatedly told by those working in the service that they are stretched beyond all limits. The position in regard to the responsibility of the Department of Health and Children for people with psychiatric illness is odd given that there are many reports telling us how many people in the prisons are in need of psychiatric treatment. As the Minister put it in a report, sometimes he is dealing with the mad and the sad rather than the bad. While I welcome any improvement made in the Central Mental Hospital, the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill is frightening legislation which provides care or treatment for prisoners who may be transferred as patients to a psychiatric institution. I regret that it has gone through this House in such a condition.
Some effort has been made on other very serious health issues. For example, Mr. Justice Kinlen pointed out that a fire engineer for the Prison Service should be appointed forthwith. He succeeded in getting someone from the Dublin Fire Service to look at how a fire would be dealt with in Mountjoy Prison where frequently there is only one stairwell and where prisoners could be in great danger. I do not think he got to see the report that was sent to Prison Service and appears to have been totally within its kin but not available to him. However, officials in Mountjoy Prison appears to have taken an initiative and are making an effort to implement further provisions in regard to fire safety in these old buildings.
Arising from a suggestion by Mr. Justice Kinlen, the prisons Bill contains a provision that bail applications, pre-trial sessions and so on could be heard by video link, as in Northern Ireland, or by transferring the prisoners concerned to Cloverhill Prison where there is a court within the prison. That would save a great deal on overtime and I understand that provision will be implemented. On the radio at lunchtime it was stated that some interesting changes are being made to the prisons Bill which, I presume, will come before the House shortly. One of these is that an ancient piece of legislation which provides that a person could bring in their bedding and furniture is to be removed from the Statute Book. It is a great pity those in the holding cells in Mountjoy did not know this because they have only a couple of benches and were not meant for people to sleep in them at night.
At present people are sleeping overnight in holding cells and, when they are full, in the reception area sometimes on very thin mattresses. While I do not want to malign the prison staff by saying the mattresses are dirty, some people who were held there have told me so. The inspector has said they are very thin and that duvets are distributed when it is time for them to go to sleep. What a pity they did not know of the legislation permitting them to bring in their furniture and a bed, as it would have made their position much safer. At the same time, it is ridiculous that more than 100 cells in Mountjoy are closed because of a decision of the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he was cutting back on the amount of money being spent on prisons.
The inspector pointed out another problem. The visiting committees do not have up-to-date rulebooks. While some rules applying to prisons and visiting committees exist, they are not in use now. It would be useful for the visiting committees to have a booklet produced. He also suggested that the visiting committees should comprise people from the locale of the prison rather than people transferred hundreds of miles across the country. It is wrongly suggested that these are political appointees, allocated to prisons far from where they live so that they can collect expenses. I am quite sure that is a very wrong assessment. I understood it was to avoid members of the visiting committees knowing the prisoners. It is suggested that the prisoners should be held in prisons as close as possible to the area in which they live so that family arrangements can be maintained as much as possible.
We have a major illiteracy problem in our prisons, yet we have cutbacks in the area of teaching. Even worse, within St. Patrick's Institution, training programmes are no longer taking place, again because of cutbacks. This is despite the significant investment by FÁS and others and is a grave mistake.
I am told psychologists are being appointed and the Government amendment to the motion "welcomes the appointment of psychologists to Mountjoy Prison, Dóchas Centre and Portlaoise Prison". However, the inspector believes the Minister is sometimes misinformed regarding the appointment of psychologists. For example, he was told that Dóchas, the women's prison in Mountjoy, had no psychologist. When he went to the prison he was told it had a psychologist. It transpired that both stories were true as the psychologist only came from the male prison to the female prison for one day, which is a completely inadequate way to deal with people most of whom are in prison as a result of various psychological problems. Arbour Hill prison contains more than 100 sex offenders and has a treatment programme for only ten. It is of no value to the prisoners to become involved in a treatment programme, as they will get no remission of sentence for doing so. While it is said that prisoners will get one-to-one psychological help, it is not true. They leave the place in very much the same state as they arrived.
The taxpayer is not getting value for money and I agree with the inspector's view that an outside business agency should be asked to assess what can be done to improve the efficiency of the Prison Service.