The Irish Prison Service has advanced plans for the refurbishment of the E Block and the demolition of the D Wing at Portlaoise Prison.
The plans were confirmed following a visit by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan to Portlaoise Prison and the Midlands Prison to meet staff just before Christmas.
Minister Flanagan said it was important to take the opportunity to acknowledge the work done by staff of the Irish Prisons Service (IPS) and all uniformed services throughout the year and, in particular, over the Christmas period.
The Minister told staff: "I fully recognise the sacrifice you and your colleagues across the uniformed services make by reporting for duty over the festive period. Your hard work and dedication is especially appreciated by myself, my colleagues in Government, your Governors, the Director General and the wider community you serve. Your public service is greatly valued."
The Minister, accompanied by the Director of the Irish Prison Service Mr Michael Donnellan, was briefed on the day-to-day operation of both prisons and the continuing improvements in the prison system. The Minister commended in particular Governor Ethel Gavin, the Campus Governor of the Portlaoise Prison Campus which includes both Portlaoise Prison and the Midlands Prison and her staff for their dedicated work in managing more than 25% of the total prisoner population (Portlaoise Prison has 231 prisoners and Midlands Prison has 833). Portlaoise Prison is a high security prison while the Midlands Prison is the largest prison in the State.
The Minister noted the wide range of improvements underway in the prison service and pledged the reform process would continue. He said: “I commend the IrishPrison Service for its continued implementation of the Government policy of rehabilitative initiatives, in conjunction with the Probation Service, the aim of which is to protect the public and make Irish society safer. Much of the important work undertaken by the Prison Service and the Probation Service goes unseen but it is vital work and greatly valued by me as the Minister for Justice and Equality.”
Examples of the continuing improvements in the prison system include:
- A significant decrease in prison numbers due to significant reforms which provide for important alternatives to prison. The overall daily average number in custody for 2016 was 3,718 compared to 4,390 in 2011, a decrease of 15%.
- The near elimination of the practice of slopping out. Examples of the improvement of the infrastructure of the prison estate are the construction of a new prison in Cork which opened in 2016 and the complete refurbishment of all the wings in Mountjoy Prison. These advances have led to an enhanced living environment for prisoners and working environment for staff across the prison Estate.
- In relation to Portlaoise Prison specifically, the IPS has advanced plans for the refurbishment of the outdated E Block and the Demolition of the D Wing.
- The commencement next year of the modernisation & expansion of facilities in Limerick Prison, which will include the provision of high qualityprison accommodation & services for female prisoners with a capacity of approximately 50 individual cells and 8 transition units.
- The closure in April 2017 of St. Patrick’s Institution which means that 17 year olds are no longer held in the adult prison system.
- A more joined up approach to the management of offenders as reflected in the first Joint Strategy on Offender Management agreed between the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service that has been operating since September 2016.
- The continued national roll out by the IPS, in conjunction with the Probation Service, of the Community Return Programme. This is an incentivised scheme for earned temporary release under which carefully selected offenders can be granted structured temporary release in return for supervised community service. The Community Return Scheme, in operation since October 2011, continues to have a 90% compliance rate. To the end of 2016 over 1,600 offenders had successfully completed the Community Return Scheme
- Continued improvements to the range of rehabilitative programmes available in prisons. These include education, vocational training, healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, counselling, welfare and spiritual services.
- Continued improvement to work and training facilities and visiting facilities within the Estate.
- The introduction this year of a Statutory Instrument entitled Prison (Amendment) Rules 2017 (no. 276 of 2017) brings Ireland into line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – (known as the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’) in respect of the issue of solitary confinement.
- The maintenance of an increased focus of the IPS on supporting prisoners and their families to maintain relationships to enable them desist from criminal behaviour upon their release.