Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (166)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

165 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the way in which adequate prison places exist at present, in view of the fact that two prisons are closed and it is proposed to build a newer, bigger prison in order to accommodate prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6506/04]

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

The provision of approximately 1,300 new prison spaces in recent years has meant that the Irish Prison Service is in a far better position to accommodate prisoners for the duration of their sentences and has resulted in the virtual elimination of the "revolving door" syndrome which brought the criminal justice system into disrepute in the mid-1990s. However, this is not to say that I am totally satisfied with the number of spaces currently available. For example, it is clear that we do not have sufficient capacity in our female prison facilities and, accordingly, steps will have to be taken to rectify this situation. In this context, it is recognised that it is difficult to predict precisely the number of spaces which we will need in the future and a number of factors will impact on this including the level of crime and the sentences imposed by our courts. These factors will be taken into consideration in the planning and design of the proposed replacement campus for the Mountjoy complex.

The most pressing accommodation issues actually relate to the quality rather than the quantity of prison spaces. In my view, it is not acceptable in this day and age to subject prisoners to the slopping out process which takes place in some of our older prisons each morning. This is one of the fundamental reasons behind the Government decision to replace the Mountjoy complex, which dates from the mid-19th century, with a modern prison facility.

The recent mothballing of Fort Mitchel and the Curragh Places of Detention are an unrelated matter and, as I have already stated, were deemed necessary because of the crippling overtime levels which are prevalent in the prison system and which I am currently addressing in the context of an ongoing industrial relations process. I cannot stress strongly enough that reforming manning levels and working arrangements in the prisons is key to ensuring value for money for the taxpayer. In any event, the net effect of these temporary closures was a loss of only 25 prison spaces as the closures were offset by the making available of additional places at both the Midlands and Limerick Prisons.