As the Deputy will be aware the work being carried out by the Irish Prison Service, led by the Director General, Michael Donnellan, and his senior management team, speaks for itself. I regularly meet the Director General, senior management and staff on my visits to prisons and at prisons related events. The Director General is a member of my Department's Management Board and raises any developments and issues of concern there and in the regular meetings I hold with the Management Board as a group. My officials are also in contact with prison management on a daily basis in relation to a host of issues.
There has been significant reform and modernisation of the Irish Prison Service in recent years. The improvements implemented include the construction of a new prison in Cork, which opened in 2016, and the complete refurbishment of all the wings in Mountjoy. The Irish Prison Service’s Capital Strategy 2016-2021 outlines plans for the complete replacement of the outdated accommodation in Limerick and Portlaoise prisons as well as improvements across a number of other prisons. On completion of the Strategy, the practice of slopping out will be full eliminated.
In addition to introducing a step down unit for female offenders, the Irish Prison Service are developing plans to address the female accommodation situation within the prison estate. This will be achieved by the modernisation and expansion of facilities in Limerick Prison, which will include the provision of high quality prison accommodation and services for female prisoners with a capacity of approximately fifty individual cells and eight transition units. 2017 also saw continued improvement to work and training facilities and visiting facilities across the Prison Estate.
In addition to the major improvements in infrastructure and the reduction of the numbers in custody in recent years, the Irish Prison Service is continuing its implementation of Government policy in focusing on rehabilitative initiatives. A greater emphasis has been placed on rehabilitative and support services and there are a wide range of rehabilitative programmes provided that include education, vocational training, healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, counselling, welfare and spiritual services. Access to these services is a critical feature for offenders in addressing their offending behaviour.
Greater emphasis is also now placed on pre-release planning with the supports put in place and links made to services in the community for offenders leaving custody greatly improving outcomes. 2017 saw the continued successful implementation of the Community Return Programme. This is an incentivised scheme where carefully selected offenders can be granted structured temporary release in return for supervised community service. It has been in operation since October 2011 and up to the end of 2017, over 2,000 prisoners were released back into the community in a structured manner, which is a compliance rate of 90%.
The Community Support Scheme is a scheme which was set up to assist with reducing recidivism rates by providing additional supports for prisoners serving sentences of between three and twelve months, giving them a more structured form of temporary release. This Scheme has recently been extended to Castlerea prison and now covers all prisons across the Estate. 2017 saw 750 people involved in the Community Return and Community Support Scheme.