Dáil Éireann - Volume 473 - 28 January, 1997

Written Answers. - Mountjoy Visiting Committee Report.

40. Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Justice the action, if any, which has been taken following the recommendations of the most recent Mountjoy visiting committee report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2188/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): The committee made ten recommendations in its report. The current position in relation to each is as follows:

Recommendation 1

Appoint an Inspector of Prisons with specified proposed powers, duties and terms of reference.

The question of the appointment of an inspector of prisons is a matter which falls within the brief of the Expert Group that was set up pursuant to a Government decision on 12 November 1996 to work out all detailed aspects of the proposed new prisons administration. The group has been asked to report by the end of January 1997.

Recommendation 2

Provide separate remand facilities for prisoners.

The Government's decision to go ahead with the building of a remand prison is in accord with the committee's recommendation in this regard. The new 400 place remand prison, to be located adjacent to the existing place of detention at [1664] Wheatfield, is now at an advanced stage of planning and the target date for completion is late 1998.

Recommendation 3

Introduce a legal ceiling to numbers in Mountjoy Prison.

The arrangements for the committal of persons sentenced to imprisonment by the courts, and for the execution of penal warrants by the gardaí, do not provide for maintenance of an upper limit on the number of persons held in the various committal institutions at any one time. There is, of course, an upper limit on the numbers which can be held securely and having regard to humane considerations. Where this limit is exceeded from time to time, immediate steps are taken to reduce the numbers to an acceptable level. These steps include transfers to other institutions and, in suitable cases, the granting of temporary release.

Recommendation 4

Immediately commence the building of the womens' prison.

The Government's decision to proceed with the building of the new womens' prison is in accordance with this recommendation. Planning of the prison has been completed and it is hoped that construction should be finished in 1998.

Recommendation 5

Review and restructure the Permanent Suicide Prevention Committee,

There is a suicide awareness committee in existence in each institution. They were set up pursuant to recommendations made by the Advisory Group on Prison Deaths in August 1991. The committees comprise mainly of persons who are working within the prisons. The visiting committee have sought to be represented on the suicide awareness committee in Mountjoy. I have agreed that there should be occasional joint meetings between members of the visiting committee and the suicide awareness committee.

Recommendations 6, 7 and 8

Formulate one coherent medical services policy. Introduce structures of medical accountability. Increase powers of Medical Director of Prison Services.

The Management of Offenders — a Five Year Plan (Chapter 7) sets out the medical services policy for the prison service, its objectives, the difficulties faced and the developments which are planned. In relation to the question of structures and the role of the director of prison medical services, I indicated some time ago that there had been a failure to clearly define the accountability of the prison doctors to the director at the outset and that I had asked the director to review his role and to make a submission to me on the matter. I am now considering that submission and expect to discuss it with the director shortly. The key issues involved centre on his overall role and on the measures which are needed to achieve responsibility and accountability for service delivery and financial control. I should also point out, [1665] however, that one of the aims of the proposed common contract for prison doctors, which has been under negotiation with the IMO for some time, is to more clearly define the line management responsibilities of prison doctors to both prison governors and to the director of prison medical services.

Recommendation 9

Review present guidelines for padded cells.

It is a matter of practical necessity to put some prisoners in a place of safety when they prove difficult to manage. The guidelines in place for the use of padded cells require all such placements to be reported to my Department and the early involvement of the prison doctor where a stay in the padded cell has to be used. It should, however, be noted that on many occasions placement in a padded cell is at the prisoner's own request.

Recommendation 10

Initiate a survey to establish the real extent of drug abuse within Mountjoy Prison with a view to setting procedures in place to eradicate the problem.

A research psychologist has been commissioned to prepare a detailed report on the Mountjoy prisoner population. Social, health and criminological aspects will be given particular attention in this study, which, I understand, is now at an advanced stage.