The second annual report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention is a substantial document, which raises many diverse issues and concerns of the inspector. It would not be appropriate for me to indicate in the course of this reply, the action already taken or being taken to address each item of concern raised by the inspector. The report is very lengthy, but if the Deputies wish me to address any particular issue, I will be glad to do so.
The inspector is not alone in being concerned about living conditions for prisoners in our older prisons and about the shortcomings in prisoner care services and programmes. These are matters that were of concern to me and to the Prisons Authority interim board, prior to the publication of the inspector's report.
I have set two principal objectives for change in this area. The first is to replace outdated prisoner accommodation, particularly at Mountjoy, Portlaoise and Cork prisons. The second objective is to control the spiralling prison overtime costs that were absorbing ever increasing amounts of money. This money could be put to more productive use in improving services for prisoners.
Deputy Cuffe may be interested to know that the total overtime budget for 12,200 members of the Garda Síochána was exceeded by the overtime budget for 3,300 prison officers. This was cannibalising resources which should have been spent on the improvement of our system.
The second annual report of the inspector refers specifically to the need to replace Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons and following a visit to Cork Prison, the inspector expressed the view that this institution should also be replaced. Significant progress is being made in each case. Following conclusion of a recent tender competition, it is hoped work will commence shortly on the provision of new accommodation at Portlaoise prison, as the next phase of the redevelopment works in that location. As members of the House are aware, a contract was recently concluded for the purchase of an extensive site at Thornton, County Dublin, for a new prison campus to replace the existing prisons on the Mountjoy campus. Furthermore, planning is well under way for development of a new prison on Spike Island to replace Cork prison. These are major undertakings involving the replacement of almost 40% of the entire prison estate. They will take a number of years to complete, but I intend to ensure that they will proceed as quickly as possible.
Members will be aware from my replies to successive questions about the measures being taken to control prison overtime costs, with the intention of ensuring that taxpayer moneys are used to best advantage. The current level of prison officer overtime is unsustainable and I am determined to pursue cost control measures to ensure that a greater portion of the prisons Vote is available for improvement in services to those in custody.
Some improvements are taking place already. For instance, the shortage of psychologists as identified by the inspector has been addressed by the recruitment of six additional psychologists to improve services to Mountjoy, Dóchas, St. Patrick's, Cloverhill, Midlands and Cork prisons. Another new psychologist will take up duty at Arbour Hill prison on 30 May and it is planned to hold another recruitment competition for clinical, forensic and counselling psychologists later this year.
Apart from his concerns about prison conditions, the inspector has also referred to the need for new prisons legislation. The question of a comprehensive new Act covering all matters relating to the prisons is included in my Department's legislative work programme but it will be some time before such comprehensive legislation can be completed and unfortunately, there are other issues of higher priority.
The inspector also referred to the preparation of a booklet on prison rules. I have decided that the 1947 prison rules need to be replaced in their entirety and I will publish my proposals shortly in this regard.