I am informed by my officials in the Irish Prison Service that the Service is committed to prisoners maintaining the relationships they have with their children.
The Irish Prison Service established a Families and Imprisonment Group in 2014, which is chaired by a prison Governor and includes representatives from Tusla, The Childhood Development Initiative, the Probation Service, the Prison Officers Association and representatives from various prisons. The group is tasked in particular with addressing the needs of children and families as highlighted in the report published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust entitled ‘Picking up the Pieces: The rights and needs of children and families affected by imprisonment.
An important element of addressing these needs is the provision of family friendly visits, and refurbishment of visit spaces. Significant work has been undertaken across the prison estate in this regard including the upgrading of visiting facilities in Mountjoy Prison.
The visits facilities in Mountjoy were upgraded in 2017, these upgrades included a suite of enhanced visiting rooms in Mountjoy Progression Unit catering for 150 prisoners, this facility promotes a family friendly atmosphere in a low security setting. In the main prison we provide three visiting rooms and two small screen visiting boxes, one of the visiting rooms provides round table visits for enhanced prisoners. There is also one screened visiting area in the New Medical Unit ( the Drug Treatment Unit).
I with to further advise the Deputy that a Prison Visitor Centre, run by the St Vincent de Paul (Prison Visitors Centre Committee) has been in operation in Mountjoy for over 15 years. This Centre provides a hospitable, safe, caring and supportive environment for children and families of prisoners, many of whom are in a vulnerable state prior to and after a prison visit. The facility provides childcare services, play areas and support for families dealing with imprisonment. It is open Monday to Saturday, excluding Tuesdays, 9:30am – 12:45pm and 1:45pm-4:30pm.
The Visitor Centre in Mountjoy offers a child-centred and supportive environment for guardians and children visiting an imprisoned parent. Mountjoy also has designated areas to facilitate family visits which include a family-friendly space, round tables/family seating and access to play materials. In addition temporary release for access/visits to children for family occasions is regularly approved in most prisons.
The Irish Prison Service also provides family-friendly training to ‘front of house’ staff, which aims to improve staff awareness of the effects of imprisonment on families and allows staff to appropriately support families and children visiting prisons.