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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013

Vol. 225 No. 2

Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Bill 2013: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who cannot be here today, I am pleased to present the Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Bill 2013 to this House. The Minister is taking Private Members' business in the other Chamber.

The existing prison in Cork, the main cell block of which dates from the early 19th century, is no longer fit for purpose. The prison does not have in-cell sanitation and lacks the basic infrastructure required of a modern prison. The poor conditions have been strongly criticised by the Inspector of Prisons and the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Inspector of Prisons is of the view that the maximum capacity of the prison should be 146 prisoners. However, the prison regularly accommodates more than 200 prisoners and has at times accommodated more than 270 prisoners.

The main purpose of the proposed new prison development in Cork is to replace the substandard prison accommodation in the existing prison and provide a modern prison facility designed on the principle of rehabilitation and resettlement.

The new prison will be situated adjacent to the existing prison on Rathmore Road. The investment being made in the development of a modern prison facility in Cork is a significant commitment by the Government given the current economic pressures. The new prison, including cells with full in-cell sanitation and showering facilities, will end the practice of slopping out and also provide a vastly better infrastructure necessary for the education and rehabilitation of prisoners, thus enhancing public safety.

Building on the site adjacent to the existing prison will also ensure value for money for the taxpayer. The new prison in Cork will have 170 cells which will house 275 prisoners and have a maximum capacity of 310 prisoners. All cells in the new facility will be approximately 12 sq. m in size with full in-cell sanitation and showering facilities and will be fully compliant with the standards for double occupancy set down by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention. Of the 170 cells in the new development, it is intended that approximately 30 will be designated exclusively for single occupancy. The planned capacity of 275 prisoners will be adequate for the needs of the prison's catchment area. The Cork Prison development will radically improve conditions for prisoners in the State's most overcrowded prison, where, on occasion, three prisoners have been required to share a cell which is 8 sq. m in size, with two prisoners in bunk beds and one on a mattress on the floor.

Development consent for the proposed new prison development in Cork is being sought under Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007. Part 4 sets out a special procedure that may be applied for the purpose of determining whether consent should be granted to larger prison developments. The purpose of the 2007 Act was to provide a more open and transparent mechanism for major prison developments under which an environmental impact assessment meeting EU standards must be prepared and the Houses of the Oireachtas make the decision about whether to grant development consent. This is done in the form of a resolution approved by both Houses, which must be then confirmed by an Act.

In June 2012, the Minister for Justice and Equality issued a direction under section 18 of the Prisons Act 2007 that Part 4 of the Act is to apply to the proposed construction of a prison on a portion of the site used as Cork Prison. In November 2012, public notice was given of the proposed prison development and observations and submissions were invited. A rapporteur, Mr James Farrelly, was appointed to prepare a report identifying the main issues raised and summarising the submissions and observations received. Twelve submissions, including a detailed submission from Cork City Council, and several petitions were received. There is no provision under the legislation for the rapporteur to comment on the validity, or otherwise, of submissions made, nor is there any provision for him to make recommendations.

The documents required by the legislation have been laid before the Houses. These include the environmental impact assessment, visual representations of the exterior of the development and the rapporteur's report. In addition, a document was laid before the Houses setting out the observations of the Minister for Justice and Equality on the environmental impact assessment and the rapporteur's report. The resolution approved by the Dáil and Seanad on Tuesday, 18 June is the consent required for the Cork Prison development to proceed. It is, in layperson's terms, the planning permission for the prison. It follows the format prescribed by section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007 and lists the main measures taken to avoid, reduce or offset any possible significant adverse effects of the development on the environment, as well as setting out the conditions to be complied with in the construction of the prison. It also details an alteration to the original proposals that has been made in response to concerns expressed during the public consultation process.

A fundamental principle of the design and location of the prison has been to minimise the impact of the development on the environment and the local community. The public consultation process and the rapporteur's report identified specific concerns on the part of local residents. In so far as is practicable, further measures are being taken to address these concerns.

The Irish Prison Service will draw up a good neighbour policy which will provide a framework under which the concerns of local residents during the construction phase can be fully dealt with. The Irish Prison Service project manager will act as liaison officer and will set up a local consultation group to address any issues that arise during the construction period. The Irish Prison Service and the principal contractor will liaise closely with an Garda Síochána, Cork City Council and other interested parties in preparing a traffic management plan to minimise the impact of construction traffic on local residents and businesses.

As regards security issues, the existing prison is the only closed prison in the State that does not have a prison-standard perimeter security wall. As the new prison will have such a wall and an outer cordon sanitaire secured by a 2.5 m fence, security risks will be significantly reduced. The need to prevent drugs or contraband being thrown into the prison from outside has been carefully considered in the prison design. To reduce the visual impact of the perimeter wall, concrete with a light-coloured finish will be used on the sections of the wall most visible to the public. To address a specific concern about the impact on residential property adjacent to the site, the height of the wall around the horticultural area at the northern end of the site will be reduced to approximately 5.2 m.

As regards privacy issues, the CCTV system will be restricted to prevent viewing into neighbouring residential property and obscured glazing will be used in all windows overlooking such property. To mitigate noise pollution and dust during the construction of the prison, the perimeter wall will be constructed before construction of the prison buildings begins.

This short Bill, to confirm the resolutions passed by the Dáil and the Seanad on 18 June, is a requirement of section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007. Before the Cork Prison development can proceed, an Act of the Oireachtas confirming those resolutions is required. This Bill is the final stage in the development approval process. The Bill contains only two sections. Section 1 confirms the resolutions under section 26 of the Prisons Act 2007 that were passed by the Dáil and Seanad on 18 June. Section 2 provides the Short Title.

Returning to the issue of the capacity of the new prison, I am aware of the concerns of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and Fr. Peter McVerry regarding the intention to provide for double occupancy of cells in the new prison. This issue was also raised by Deputies during the debates in the other House on the resolution and this Bill. Given the current number of prisoners in custody - approximately 4,200 on any given day - the Irish Prison Service is not in a position to provide single-cell accommodation to all prisoners. Single-cell occupancy across the system would result in a bed capacity of approximately 3,000 and would not be possible to achieve without releasing sizeable numbers of prisoners considered to represent a threat to public safety or, alternatively, by constructing another 1,000 cells and all of the ancillary support infrastructure that they would require. In the current economic environment, such an ambitious building programme is not a realistic option.

In addition, it should be borne in mind that in some cases prisoners are housed together for reasons other than lack of capacity. Family members, friends and co-accused prisoners often request to be assigned a shared cell. Shared-cell accommodation can be very beneficial from a management point of view, particularly for those who are vulnerable and at risk of self-harm. There will always be a need for certain prisoners to be accommodated together. As outlined in the Irish Prison Service three-year strategic plan, it is intended to align the capacity of our prisons with the guidelines laid down by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention by 2014, in so far as this is compatible with public safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system.

In 2012 and in the first quarter of this year, priority has been given to reducing the chronic overcrowding in Mountjoy, Cork and Limerick Prisons and the Dóchas Centre. Senators will be aware that the Minister for Justice and Equality has announced a number of initiatives to alleviate overcrowding in the prison system. The community return programme is an incentivised scheme for earned temporary release under which offenders who pose no threat to the community are offered early temporary release in return for supervised community service. This programme has been a positive development and, as well as allowing prisoners to complete their sentences by way of performing service to the community, it has helped these prisoners to successfully resettle in their communities.

As regards the situation in Cork, the unlocking community alternatives scheme, UCAS, initiative was set up with the aims of reducing overcrowding problems in Cork Prison and addressing recidivism levels.

The primary aim of the scheme is to reduce the current recidivism rates by arranging additional support structures for prisoners, helping with issues such as housing, medical care, substance abuse and training needs and providing a more structured form of temporary release. It is hoped that increasing support for prisoners prior to their release from prison, on their release and then for a period after their release will help to break the cycle of reoffending. This is a pilot scheme which will be reviewed in 12 months to assess its impact on reoffending rates.

I am aware that another important matter of concern is the provision of family-friendly visiting facilities in the new Cork Prison. The Irish Prison Service recognises the importance for those in prison of maintaining and developing their relationships with their children and families. It is committed to assisting in any way it can with achieving these objectives. Seeking to accomplish this raises a wide range of sensitivities and challenges which require an appropriate balance between security requirements and conditions appropriate for family visits. The proposed new prison in Cork will have a modern visiting facility centred on the need to provide an environment for visits that is welcoming and comfortable, in so far as that is possible in a prison setting.

Construction of the new Cork Prison is expected to commence later this year and be completed in early 2016. As action is urgently required to address the chronic overcrowding and inadequate conditions in Cork Prison, the Minister and I hope this Bill will be passed by this House before the summer recess in order that tendering for the construction of the new prison can proceed.

On behalf of the Minister, I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State. Whereas I have some reservations about this project, I broadly welcome it. I would be disappointed, however, if there were to be an attempt to deal with all Stages tonight.

I would like the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline to the House, on Committee or Report Stage, the position on the long-awaited report on the death of Gary Douch who was murdered in a cell in Mountjoy Prison in 2006. The reason I raise this issue is that an inquiry was set up and a senior counsel, a barrister, appointed to produce a report on the atrocious murder. Mr. Douch was, apparently, in a cell with a mentally unstable cellmate who killed him. It is worrying that after seven years the report has not been published. If this is an example of how we deal with deaths in prison and overcrowding, it is a sad reflection on us.

I received an email from Mr. Eoin Carroll of the Jesuit Centre, which has deep concerns. The Minister of State has addressed some of them. Paragraph 2 of the centre’s release states:

Responding to a speech yesterday by the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, when he addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, the Jesuit Centre challenges the Minister's claim that the new prison would provide 'adequate and suitable accommodation for all prisoners'. The Centre points out that a failure to provide single cell accommodation in the new prison will be in direct breach of Article 18.5 of the European Prison Rules, drawn up by the Council of Europe of which Ireland is a founder member State.

I understand the Inspector of Prisons has deep reservations because it is not on, when planning a new prison, that we do not try to achieve the ultimate goal of having single cells, single sanitary accommodation and showers, etc.

The release continues:

Eoin Carroll, Advocacy Officer in the Jesuit Centre, said: "A plan for a new prison which has double occupancy as the norm cannot possibly be considered to be in accordance with international best practice. Article 18.5 of the European Prison Rules is explicit: 'Prisoners shall normally be accommodated during the night in individual cells except where it is preferable for them to share sleeping accommodation'."

Carroll went on to say: "The Minister, rightly, highlights the fact that the provision of a new building will result in the elimination of slopping-out in Cork Prison [which I welcome]. The Centre welcomes the fact that the new prison will have in-cell sanitation and shower facilities. However, unless these facilities are fully walled off from the living area of the cell - and this is not the case in some of the other prisons in Ireland where there is in-cell sanitation - double occupancy of cells will mean that people detained in the new prison in Cork will still not have the basic right of privacy in using toilet and washing facilities."

I share this concern. The Minister of State kindly referred to the concerns of Fr. Peter McVerry, SJ, of the Jesuit Centre. He stated:

Cell sharing should not be the norm in prison. In many cases, it results in increased intimidation and violence, and leads to non-drug users being introduced to drug use. But even without such extreme consequences, enforced sharing can represent a very cramped and oppressive living environment, especially in light of the fact that in Ireland out-of-cell time is, at best, only six or seven hours a day.

The release also states:

Fr McVerry, who regularly visits prisons in the Dublin area, went on to say: "A central feature of the current renovation programme in Mountjoy Prison is the provision of single occupancy cells. In the sections of Mountjoy where refurbishment has now been completed, there has been a huge improvement in the environment, with dramatic reductions in the levels of intimidation and violence. [I laud this very welcome development.] I believe this is in no small part due to implementation of a policy of single occupancy."

Fr McVerry added: "It is difficult to understand how the Minister and the Irish Prison Service can ensure that the Mountjoy Prison redevelopment project adheres to the principle of one person, one cell, yet at the same time fail to abide by this key principle in the planning of a brand new prison in Cork."

This is a source of great concern. Eoin Carroll stated:

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice urges members of the Dáil and Seanad not to acquiesce to the Minister's clear desire to rush through the Houses a forthcoming resolution which would, in effect, give the go-ahead for the project but instead to demand time for a full debate on the resolution.

I will be demanding a full debate tonight. It is critical that we have one. As stated correctly by the Minister of State, Cork Prison dates from the 19th century. It is antiquated and one that, unfortunately, I had to visit on a number of occasions as a legal practitioner. I am glad that we are moving in the right direction. In building the new prison, which I broadly welcome, we should go the extra mile to ensure all prisoners, particularly those serving terms of five years or more, are treated appropriately. I am a strong supporter of the view that any prison sentence should be a matter of last resort in so far as that is possible. The courts and justice system are trying to ensure offenders, particularly young offenders, are dealt with, first, by a yellow card or slap on the wrist. Sending young people to prison has a knock-on effect in that there is a tendency to reoffend.

The justice system has an obligation to cater for rehabilitation, retraining and work programmes in prison. Although this is achieved to some extent, it is not achieved as fully as it could be. There are considerable possibilities. I raised in this and the other House my deep concern about this matter. Perhaps it has been addressed slightly. Many years ago I spoke to the only counsellor attached to Cork Prison. I believe he was a psychotherapist. He did wonderful work, but he was but one man visiting the prison perhaps one day per week to try to clear guys heads, including those suffering from depression and a mental illness. Not enough of this work is being done.

I am not sure whether the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, has rowed back on his thinking on getting rid of the religious advisers or chaplains in prisons. They have done wonderful work. I am not talking about whether they should be Catholic, Church of Ireland or any other religion. Any person, be they a psychotherapist, counsellor or chaplain, who gives advice to people in prison and tries to ease their minds, listen to their stories, calm them and counsel them should be welcomed. In this regard, I hope the Minister and the Acting Leader will consent to our not proceeding beyond Second Stage tonight. We are to sit next week. While I do not intend to call a vote on Second Stage, I might table amendments to clarify certain views that I hold.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House. The redevelopment of Cork Prison is a very important and welcome initiative, not least because it will end the practice of slopping out which has heretofore been in operation at the facility. As the Minister of State observed, the existing prison was built to accommodate just under 150 prisoners but has consistently had to house in excess of that number. During my time on Cork City Council - I am going back seven or eight years here - there were many nights when the number reached 170 or even 180. I have been to Cork Prison on several occasions, both in a legal capacity and in my capacity as lord mayor of Cork. In fact, it is one of the functions of the lord mayor to have breakfast in the prison on Christmas morning. It brings one down to earth very fast to see there are people for whom Christmas is not at all a joyful occasion.

The condition of the existing facility could not be tolerated much longer. I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, for his efforts in advancing these proposals, and the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, who represents the constituency in which the prison will be built. It is the right move in terms of accommodating the prisoner population in Cork and the larger south Munster region. I hope we can deal with all Stages of the Bill tonight in order to avoid any unnecessary delay in the construction process. The site has been identified, there has been consultation with local residents and some of their concerns have been taken on board. That consultation process was most welcome. I also welcome the clearly set out building programme, which specifies that the perimeter wall will be erected before proceeding with construction of the facility itself. That will help to reduce noise levels once the main construction work begins.

The Minister of State referred to the importance of providing supports for people. I have been involved in issues relating to Cork Prison since as far back as 1996, when Colm O'Herlihy, head of education at the facility, introduced an educational training scheme which involved 20 prisoners and their partners participating at the same time. Of the 20 prisoners who took part, 12 returned to full-time education after their release. Improving conditions in prisons is one issue, but it is also important to consider what happens when people leave prison. During my time as lord mayor I often had complaints from prison officers in Cork Prison that the overcrowding problem was leading to a situation where prisoners were being released in a chaotic and disorganised way. The officers were often required to bring back a contingent of prisoners from District Court sittings a long distance from Cork. The prison van might not leave the court until the last case was dealt with, which often meant in rural areas and even in Waterford, for example, that it might not depart until 6 p.m and would only arrive at Cork Prison at 8 p.m. or so. With the arrival of the new prisoners, inmates who were next on the list to be released would have to be let go at that late time in the evening, without any prior notice or any provision for their accommodation. That is unacceptable. We must ensure there is a process in place to ease prisoners back into normal life. It is not easy for anybody to return to the outside world, even if they have only been in prison for six months. There is a significant adjustment period, especially for long-term prisoners. We have a great deal of work to do in this area.

It is important these proposals are implemented without delay. The debate has gone on long enough. We have been talking about it in Cork for at least 18 years. We must do our part to ensure the Bill progresses through the Houses, so that the Minister and the Prison Service can proceed with the tender and construction processes. The target completion date is early 2016 and I hope it is met. At a time when the construction industry is in difficulty, this project presents an opportunity for significant job creation. The sooner it is up and running, the better. I realise that several processes must be gone through before building work can commence, but we should aim to have it begin by the end of this year and to achieve the target completion date of January 2016. I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill to the House and the Minister, Deputy Shatter, for progressing it through his Department. I also appreciate the input from the Prison Service. I fully support the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. The State is facing a significant problem of overcrowding in prisons, an issue which the Bill seeks partly to address by way of provision for the construction of another prison. It should be noted, however, that this is not the route being pursued by other countries. It is disappointing, moreover, that because of financial constraints, many prisoners will have to share cells in the new facility. That cannot be in any way dressed up as a positive development. Prisons and hospitals are the two places where people should not have to share with others. That is so for two very different reasons, but both have to do with respecting the dignity of the person and, in the context of prisons, respecting the safety of the person.

The Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Penal Reform, of which Senator Ivana Bacik is a member, made the straightforward recommendation that all prison sentences for non-violent offences of less than six months should be commuted to community service orders. It also recommended that the Government adopt a decarceration strategy to reduce the prison population by one third over a ten-year period. I certainly support that recommendation and urge action to achieve it. In May of this year the Council of Europe published a very interesting report which found that high prison populations are a consequence of government policy rather than an increase in the incidence of crime. In other words, prison overcrowding and increasing prison populations in European Union countries are a function more of the length of sentences imposed than the number of people actually being incarcerated. In fact, experts agree that where politicians constantly raise the issue of crime as being a massive problem in society, those politicians then feel obliged to provide for lengthier sentences, which results in more people in prison. This is a temptation in particular for the main Government party, which has always maintained that it stands for law and order and advocates tough sentences for criminals. It says as much on the Fine Gael website.

The question of prison populations being inextricably linked to politics and the policies of political parties is an important one because it shows that it is not necessarily about an increase in the incidence of crime.

The governor of Norway's Bastoy prison, Mr. Arne Nilsen, made an interesting point. He said that the big difference is that in Norway there is no unnecessary political interference in the country's prison system and processes and no pressure from a cynical media. Norway's re-offending rate is the lowest in Europe, at 16%. Mr. Nilsen said:

The Norwegian people do not like crime or criminals, but we have a duty to society and to potential victims to release people from prison less likely to commit more crime. By paying attention and respecting the humanity of the men who come here, that is what we do.

It would be worth while reflecting on and considering this. Too often, we see criminal justice policy purely through the lens of punishment and, perhaps, revenge. However, we work smarter and not harder and provide for a better future for all of us if we try to look at offenders as people who need to be rehabilitated and at our prison system in terms of whether it works when it comes to rehabilitating people or whether our approach is merely the product of a reflex action that is not properly reflected upon. I wonder whether we could learn more from other countries, particularly EU countries, in order to reduce the prison population. For example, young people between 18 and 21 in Germany and The Netherlands may be treated either as juveniles or as adults, depending on the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances in which the crime was committed and the personality of the defendant. In Scandinavian countries, sentence lengths are systematically reduced for young adults.

We are all well aware of the issues surrounding St. Patrick's institution. We have a situation where, of the 193 prisoners held on 23-hour lock-up, 44 are aged under 21. Should this not be an impetus to follow the lead of other EU countries and change the way we deal with young offenders as part of a plan to reduce prison numbers? Will the Minister of State comment on the recent findings from the UK, where the UK Parliament's select justice committee concluded that prison remained an "expensive and ineffective" way of dealing with many female offenders who do not pose a significant risk to public safety? They called for a redesign of the female custodial estate and a significant increase in the use of residential alternatives to custody. Will the Minister of State comment on whether she agrees we face the same problem here when it comes to imprisoning too many people, particularly women, who do not pose a risk to the public? Is this not the point? Is risk to the public not the key issue to be considered? Why do we not do more to provide alternatives to custodial sentencing where people are not violent or do not pose a risk to the public? I accept there must be a punitive dimension to sentencing, but we should look more at restorative justice and other more imaginative measures designed to make people more solid citizens. In this regard, should the Oireachtas not have an in-depth appraisal of our current prison system before we embark on constructing any new prisons?

The United Kingdom also plans a change in the law in order that for the first time prisoners will receive at least 12 months tailored - called "through the gate" - supervision on release. We should consider this example. Perhaps we should also implement community service rather than think in terms of long prison sentences. The well respected policy think tank, the Howard League for Penal Reform has conducted research which demonstrates that community sentences can reduce re-offending by up to 22%, compared with short custodial sentences of up to 12 months. Community service provides a situation where things get done that probably would not have been done and provides offenders with a routine of work, builds their self esteem and leads to them being able to change their lives for the better, instead of a situation where they are simply locked up at enormous cost to the taxpayer in a school of resentment, revenge and future crime.

In the United Kingdom community service is now officially referred to as a more straightforward "compulsory, unpaid work". Perhaps we should call a spade a spade. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's view of this. In Britain, citizens can nominate or vote for a project they wish to see benefit from unpaid labour. This is an interesting aspect of the situation worth considering. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, was cited on the issue of community payback as saying that punishment should be tough and that people wanted to see low-level offenders out making improvements in local communities as payback for the damage they have done. Perhaps the Minister should consider the idea of projects such as community payback as carried out in the United Kingdom and perhaps he could liaise with British counterparts on this possibility. In The Netherlands, the community service order has been replaced by the so-called "task penalty", which requires a combination of work and training of up to 480 hours to be completed within a year. When imposing a task penalty, the court must state the period of detention to be served in the event of non-compliance. The Dutch example is worth consideration in this regard.

So far, I have focused on the issue of reducing the number of people in prison. Should criminals who have made massive profits from their crimes be treated differently and is there potential within our constitutional and legal architecture to deal with that? In Britain a recent law means that criminals will have longer prison sentences if they do not pay back the proceeds of crime. One drug dealer there had an extra four and a half years added to a 13 year sentence when he failed to pay back approximately £600,000. This is an example of the type of imaginative thinking we need to use. Obviously, we have a particular structure within which we must work, but we must be more imaginative in our approach.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, to the House. I welcome this Bill and believe it is welcomed generally across the House and by NGOs. Everyone with an involvement in penal reform or prison work will be aware of the unfit, inhumane and sub-standard conditions currently pertaining in Cork Prison and the urgent need to ensure those conditions are improved and the prison is rebuilt. There is general welcome for the Bill from all, including the Penal Reform Trust and the Jesuit Centre of Faith and Justice.

The current conditions at Cork Prison have been widely condemned, both internationally by the European committee for the prevention of torture and by our inspector of prisons. Therefore, this is a long overdue piece of legislation to enable the rebuilding of the prison. I listened to Senator O'Donovan and sympathise with the idea that we should not rush the Bill. In that regard, I spoke with the Leader, Senator Cummins, about changing the Order of Business, but he reminded me we passed the Order of Business this morning. Also, there was a full debate on this motion some weeks ago at the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. We are having a good debate on the Bill and its content, there are no amendments put forward on it and it is a matter of urgency.

This Bill is part of ongoing penal reform and we have seen a number of welcome and important initiatives taken in this regard by the Government. There is more of an emphasis on penal reform under the current Government than previously. The rebuilding programme is in progress in Mountjoy Prison where we have seen a commitment to ending slopping out . Like me, members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will have seen at first hand the great and welcome physical improvement taking place in Mountjoy Prison. We have seen initiatives like community return and the unlocking community alternatives scheme, UCAS, and have seen important decisions being taken, for example, the closure, at last, of St. Patrick's Institution and an end to the appalling practice of keeping minors detained there. We have also seen initiatives such as the introduction of integrated sentence management, better planning for end of sentence release and an end to slopping-out nationally. These are all welcome.

Two issues raised by colleagues do not actually relate to the Bill, which simply facilitates the rebuilding of the prison, but to the detail of the plan for rebuilding. The first concerns single cell occupancy and this was addressed in the Minister of State's contribution. It is regrettable that in the plan for the new Cork Prison, only 30 cells will be for single occupancy and that we see an increased use of double occupancy cells. We need to ensure, as mentioned by the Jesuit Centre of Faith and Justice, that as a minimum we conform to the standard set by the inspector of prisons. I am sure many colleagues are aware of the work of Dr. Kevin Warner in this area, who has stated that the inspector's standards fall below those of the European prison rules, rule No. 18.5 of which requires single cell occupancy. The European rule states that prisons should normally be accommodated during the night in individual cells, except where it is preferable for them to share sleeping accommodation. The Minister said there are situations where prisoners may want to share, for example family members and friends, and this might be beneficial. This should be possible, but single cell occupancy is the norm and it is regrettable we do not seem to be aiming for that.

The second concern was raised by both the Jesuit Centre of Faith and Justice and the Irish Penal Reform Trust. It relates to a bigger issue, one we addressed recently in the report on penal reform I authored for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and which was adopted unanimously by the committee. In that report we called for a decarceration strategy to be adopted by the Minister.

This would result in a reduction in the use of imprisonment be seeking, in particular, to commute sentences of imprisonment for non-violent offenders where they receive very short sentences of less than six months. As the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, and the Minister, Deputy Shatter, are aware, a huge number of prisoners are being processed through the system and being given very short periods in prison without being able to avail of any serious rehabilitation, integration or sentence management, and are simply shuffled out again at the other end. This is not conducive to a good rehabilitative penal system.

I am glad our report was adopted and I am seeking to further it with the Minister and his advisers. I know it will feed into the strategic review of penal reform that the Minister has embarked upon, which is very welcome. It is the first time since the Whitaker committee reported in the mid-1980s that we are going to see this sort of strategic review of the penal system. I hope this Bill does not herald the sort of penal expansionism we have seen in the past under previous Ministers, where new prisons were simply built without any real regard to whether they were needed. I am glad that under this Government we have abandoned the Thornton Hall scheme, which was a particularly extreme example of penal expansionism. It is entirely appropriate that we are seeking to rebuild Cork Prison; there is no doubt about that. I know we will see greatly improved conditions within the prison, including in-cell sanitation as a given, and we will see at least some cells designated as single-cell occupancy. I believe all of us would like to see more cells in the prison designated as single-cell occupancy, at least enough to enable long-term prisoners to be housed in those spaces, as required by the Inspector of Prisons. Even if we cannot attain the proper standards as set out under the European prison rules, I believe we could do somewhat better.

Having said all that, like others, I very much welcome the Bill. I greatly appreciate the urgent need to ensure better conditions for those who are currently incarcerated in Cork Prison.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. Many good points have already been made, particularly regarding community service and attachment of earnings. I believe many people are in prison as a result of relatively small debts and it is hugely expensive to keep them there. I did not hear mention of tagging, which is a feature of other justice systems. In addition, are we going to use restorative justice programmes?

I am disappointed with the question of doubling up, and I share the concerns expressed by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice that doubling up leads to drug abuse, violence and intimidation, and, as in the Gary Douch case, to death. The distinguished former Senator T.K. Whitaker recommended single cells, ready access to toilet facilities, which is being provided, and 12 hours out of the cell, although the Minister of State said only six hours out of the cell is proposed, if I heard her correctly. When we talk of keeping national rules, I believe we should refer to European rules because I fear some of the national rules in such areas are too lax. We must aim for higher standards.

The cost of the project is not stated, but we need to know the cost per place. There must be concerns about cost consciousness in this area, given the experience with Thornton Hall, which proved to be one of the most massively costly acquisitions of a piece of farmland in the history of farmland. It would help if more of that data was included, because all Departments must be conscious of costs these days, including the Department of Justice and Equality.

It is important that we consider alternatives and aim for the decarceration of society, as Senator Bacik mentioned. Was consideration given to the large number of other premises we are selling off, such as the barracks in Clonmel and Mullingar? How did this project get to be at the top of the list? I know there was a prison there before, but the economics of this require scrutiny. How do our costs per prisoner compare with those in other jurisdictions?

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá cuid mhaith de na pointí a bhí le déanamh déanta cheana féin. Tacaím le cuid mhaith den mhéid atá ráite. Is maith an rud é go bhfuilimid ag smaoineamh an bealach céanna.

It is unfortunate that we are taking all Stages of the Bill tonight. When so much forward planning has gone into a project such as this, it is a shame we did not plan to break up the different sections, although I will not dwell on that issue.

I was at a meeting of the Galway city joint policing committee yesterday. A couple of the statistics outlined were quite staggering. For example, there has been a 50% increase in the level of domestic violence in the last six months and also an increase in the numbers of assaults and rapes. A stunning statement from the chief superintendent there was that he linked certain increases in crime with the austerity that was happening; therefore, the wider political perspective has to be taken into consideration. We need to look at who is in prison, why they are in prison and what we can do to counteract this.

The economic scenario is a huge factor in what happens. We see that people who commit certain crimes tend to come from certain socioeconomic backgrounds, which has to be considered. I note it is often said in this and the other House that there are certain people in the State who should be in prison but who are not in prison yet for crimes of an economic nature. It would be nice to see some of those people behind bars.

There is also the issue of recidivism. We have seen in a number of reports on serious recent crimes that the people involved are repeat offenders who were recently allowed out. The question is whether the justice system and the penal system are working. Do we just see prison as a mechanism for locking people up and shutting them away from the general public? Are we really tackling the basic issues of crime that are inherent in our society? I contend we are not doing that as well as we should be.

I share the concerns that have been raised by those such as the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. While I will not repeat what has already been said by Senator O'Donovan and others, it is useful to make a number of other points from the backup information we have been given. For example, while the daily average number of people in prison in 2012 showed a welcome decline on the figure for 2011, the reality is that, prior to 2012, prison numbers had been rising almost continuously for several decades and had more than doubled since 1990. Between 2007 and 2012, the daily average number of people in prison rose by over 30%, while the number of committals to prison rose by 43%; therefore, we obviously have a serious problem.

Doubling up has become normal practice in Irish prisons. On 28 May 2013, over half of the prison population were in multiple-occupancy cells. In Cork Prison less than 20% of prisoners were held in single-occupancy rooms.

The practice whereby large numbers of prisoners are required to slop out continues. This practice has been severely criticised by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Four prisons within the Irish prison estate do not have in-cell sanitation in every cell, which means that 565 prisoners are required to slop out. Of these, 233 are held in Cork Prison and 205 are held in the male prison in Mountjoy.

On the broader scenario, the European prison rules on allocation and accommodation from 2006 recommend the following:

18.5 Prisoners shall normally be accommodated during the night in individual cells except where it is preferable for them to share sleeping accommodation.

18.6 Accommodation shall only be shared if it is suitable for this purpose and shall be occupied by prisoners suitable to associate with each other.

18.7 As far as possible, prisoners shall be given a choice before being required to share sleeping accommodation.

The Minister of State noted that this was debated by the justice committee. However, my understanding is that there has been a subsequent report from the Inspector of Prisons which also examined the proposed plan for Cork, which is for 275 prisoners, with a maximum capacity of 310. There will be 170 cells, 30 of which will be single cells. However, in an answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister indicated that there were 39 prisoners serving a sentence of five years or more on 30 June 2013, which is 39 of approximately 232 prisoners. Conservatively, when the new prison is up and running, there will be 47 long-term prisoners. Therefore, planning for 30 single cells is not enough. Furthermore, the inspector in his assessment notes that if those on restricted regimes are locked up for extend periods of time in double cells, this could amount to overcrowding. As of 26 March, 59 prisoners in Cork were on protection, of whom 15 were on a restricted regime - that is, locked in a cell for more than 20 hours per day.

The Jesuit centre advocates for one person, one cell.

At least those prisoners on long-term sentences or restricted regimes should, if they so wish, be given single-cell accommodation to achieve this principle and also that of reducing prison numbers to a minimum. There is an urgent need to cap the prison population size at its current figure of 235 for the new prison, with 47 single cells and a maximum of 94 double cells. Genuine concerns have been expressed that where people are to be in prison they should be imprisoned in suitable circumstances. I hope the Minister of State will take these points into consideration.

In response to the last speaker, I very much take on board and accept fully that all points raised tonight by the few Members who have chosen to contribute are genuine. In my experience over the years, prisoner welfare has never been a popular issue. The majority of people in this country would say we waste money on prisoners, but I do not take that view. It is true that too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart. We must be careful how we treat people, especially first-time offenders. We must consider whether the latter should be put into a juvenile liaison scheme or a programme of community employment. The last resort should be a prison sentence.

Anybody who has visited Cork Prison, as I take it some Members present have, will say it is a horrendous place. It is so not only for those incarcerated but also for those who work there. I am always struck and fascinated by the fact there have not been more disturbances in the prison, given the level of tension naturally in such tightly confined quarters, especially in weather such as we are having. I live quite close to the prison. People are looking for some air and a little space, but these are not to be found. Throughout the years any piece of open space within the prison has been built on in order to accommodate an office block or release more space for prisoner accommodation. Of course, the perfect solution would be to have single cells throughout, but the site is very tight. The original proposal was for Kilworth. Many of my neighbours have made submissions in regard to the plan for Cork Prison and their preference would have been for Kilworth. Just as with Thornton Hall, however, how would people get there to visit? Kilworth is not just out the road. I take on board what Senator Barrett noted. It is important that people in prison stay very much connected to their families if they are to have any chance when they are released. Kilworth would have offered more space, but this is the site we have. It suits people coming from Limerick or Bantry. I assume everywhere in the country there are people who break the law from time to time and find themselves incarcerated. Given that it is a transport hub, Cork city offers people a better chance of visiting. Ultimately, there is better access.

I hold the view that only people who are a danger, not only to society but to other individuals, should be imprisoned. We may all agree with that principle but, as of now, our system tells us there are other areas where people commit crime and the law says they should receive a custodial sentence. We are working very much towards a broader system of punishment whereby people can repay their debts to society. The release programmes we are putting in place are hugely positive. Throughout my life I have known people who have been imprisoned. As Senator Colm Burke said, rightly, when the door opens, whether it is 8 p.m. or 8 a.m., they are left to the ways of the world and they usually fall back into the pattern that brought them into prison in the first place. We need to reinforce plans and structures. It is amazing that people who get long sentences usually do very well in terms of education within the prison system but people who get very short sentences - those we imagine have the best chance of rehabilitation - do not buy into that at all.

Colm O'Herlihy's project was exceptional and worked very well, but he was an exceptional person who really believed in the concept of rehabilitation. With better facilities and a better area to work in, I believe we can develop such programmes. It is okay for us to say this. I would prefer if all cells were single and I understand why it is necessary. However, there are people locked into cells tonight in Cork Prison who are completely overcrowded. There is no air conditioning and in this hot weather we cannot leave people to suffer any longer in these conditions. Money moves. As Neil Diamond says, "Money talks, but it don't sing and dance and it don't walk." It may not sing and dance, but it moves - take my word for it. If we do not move on this-----

The Minister of State should be quoting Bruce Springsteen these days.

I am waiting for him to come to Cork. He will be there tomorrow night. Money does walk and does move. We must ensure this project is put in place, not only for this prison but for Limerick Prison, Mountjoy Prison and the Dóchas Centre. Upgrading our prison facilities is hugely important. I am glad to see that Members present - although it is not a full House by any means - have considered views on how we should treat prisoners. God knows, prison is often a very lonely place. In the current circumstances, we need to move ahead with this. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.