Thursday, 29 January 2004

Questions (39, 40)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

33 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made to date in addressing the serious shortcomings in prisons identified in the report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2473/04]

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Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

66 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his intentions with respect to implementing the recommendations of the first prison inspectorate report; and when he will put the prison inspectorate on a statutory footing. [2364/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 66 together.

The first annual report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention contains a substantial number of recommendations aimed at improving services and conditions in prisons generally, as well as specific recommendations on particular prisons inspected.

The most serious shortcomings identified by the inspector are the outdated and unacceptable conditions at Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons where there is still a requirement for prisoners to perform the demeaning and degrading practiceof daily slopping out. The inspector's recommendations that both of these prisons be replaced in their entirety by modern prison facilities coincide fully with my own prior conclusions and those of the Prisons Authority interim board. Construction work is already under way at Portlaoise Prison to provide new gatelock and prisoner reception facilities and tenders will be invited shortly for the much needed new prisoner accommodation to replace the outdated ‘D' and ‘E' blocks.

There are two possible options in regard to the replacement of the outdated accommodation at Mountjoy Prison. The first option is to redevelop the prison on the existing site involving the demolition and reconstruction of existing buildings. The second option is to relocate the prison to a greenfield site. My preference, as I have recently indicated, is for the relocation of Mountjoy Prison to a new site and I intend to bring this proposal to Government in the next week or so.

Other recommendations made by the inspector are being implemented as opportunity and resources permit. Several of the more straightforward recommendations have already been implemented. A medical officer is due to take up duty in February at Portlaoise Prison and a recruitment competition to fill vacancies for psychologists will be advertised in the coming weeks. Emergency exit, assembly signs and so forth have been put in place in the Dóchas Centre and fire evacuation drills organised as required. It is intended that all precautionary and emergency procedures for fire will be examined at each institution on the appointment of the Irish Prison Service's new fire officer. An offer of appointment to the highest placed candidate in the recent competition for fire officer will issue this week.

At the prior initiative of the Prisons Authority interim board, and coinciding with the inspector's recommendations, television points have been provided in all cells at Mountjoy Prison and netting is being provided at Cloverhill Prison to frustrate the efforts of persons outside the prison who throw illicit drugs into the yards during prisoner recreation times. A comprehensive report on measures taken to implement the recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention will be included in the annual report of the Irish Prison Service for 2003 which is currently being prepared.

Draft provisions for a statutory prisons inspectorate are being prepared in the context of the Prisons Bill which is under preparation in my Department at present.