Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ceisteanna (33)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

33. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he is taking to end overcrowding in prisons here. [47530/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy may be aware, prison governors are required by law to accept all prisoners into their custody who have been committed to prison by the Courts. Therefore, the Irish Prison Service has no control over the numbers committed to custody at any given time.

The number of spaces available on a given day can be less than the capacity figure as cells may be unavailable for different reasons such as repairs and maintenance.  Furthermore, where local management assess a prisoner as being unsuited to share a cell for reasons of vulnerability or propensity to violence, a cell designated as being operationally suitable for two prisoners may, temporarily, house only one prisoner.

Where the number of prisoners exceeds the maximum capacity in any prison, the Irish Prison Service makes every effort to deal with this through a combination of inter-prison transfers to manage the available space and structured Temporary Release. Decisions in relation to temporary release are considered on a case by case basis and the safety of the public is paramount when those decisions are made.

My Department is working closely with the Irish Prison Service to ensure a safe working environment for staff and the safety and security of prisoners in our custody, and a number of short and medium term steps to address the issue of increasing prison numbers.

I am advised that plans are advanced for the re-opening of accommodation not currently being used within the system, including the re-opening of the Training Unit which will provide approximately an additional 96 spaces.

In addition, an audit of existing accommodation is underway, in order to identify where additional spaces can be brought on stream with the potential to provide in excess of an additional 100 spaces. A major project is also underway in Limerick for the construction of a female prison, as well as a new wing to Limerick male prison. Together, this will provide 158 new spaces.

I can further advise the Deputy that there has also been progress in providing alternatives to custody, including the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011, which requires a sentencing judge to consider the imposition of community service where a custodial sentence of 12 months or less is being considered. The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 also provides a number of alternative sanctions for the courts to reduce the need to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of fines.