The Deputy will be aware that the primary role of the Irish Prison Service is to provide safe and secure custody for prisoners. The Deputy will also be aware that the Prison Service must accept all persons committed by the courts into custody and does not have the option of refusing committals.
On Monday, 22 November 2013, there were 30 women in custody in Limerick Female Prison, which has a bed capacity of 28. On the same day, there were 121 women in custody in the Dóchas Centre, which has a bed capacity for 105. In April 2012, I published the Irish Prison Service 3 year Strategic Plan. This strategy sets out the overall high level objectives and key strategic actions the Irish Prison Service intends to take during the period 2012 to 2015. One of the commitments given in the Strategy is that the Irish Prison Service will work in partnership with the Probation Service and other stakeholders in the statutory, community and voluntary sectors in order to develop a strategy for dealing with women offenders.
In this regard, I can advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service published a joint Strategic Plan for 2013-2015. Both agencies are working together to develop a strategy which ensures a more targeted response to women offenders including:
- identifying and diverting women at risk of a custodial sentence through greater use of community sanctions, supports and inter-agency co-operation;
- strengthening early intervention measures in the community through adopting a co-ordinated multi-agency approach;
- improving outcomes for women currently in custody;
- exploring the potentials of women centric alternatives to custody;
- development of a suitable step down facility for women offenders;
- enhanced co-operation with the community and voluntary sector.
In September 2012, I announced the establishment of a Working Group to conduct a Strategic Review of Penal Policy. In line with a recommendation of the Thornton Hall Review Group which reported in 2012, the Working Group has been asked to carry out an all encompassing strategic review of penal policy incorporating an examination and analysis of all aspects of penal policy including the issue of female prisoners. This Review is ongoing and the Working Group is expected to report early next year.