Dáil Éireann - Volume 648 - 26 February, 2008

Written Answers. - Prison Drug Treatment Services.

Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prison nurse officers recruited to date, as planned under the National Drugs Strategy 2001 to 2008; the location where each of these officers are placed and their job description; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7623/08]

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The National Drugs Strategy 2001 to 2008 contained a commitment to continue to implement the recommendations [464] of the Steering Group on Prison-Based Drug Treatment Services which dealt only with the area covered by the then Eastern Regional Health Authority and recommended the recruitment of an additional 9 Nurse Officers. Since the publication of the National Drugs Strategy there has been an increase of over 30 in the number of Nurse Officers in the Prison Service. These additional Nurse Officers as part of their duties support the implementation of the recommendations in the National Drug Strategy which informed the current Irish Prison Service Drugs Policy and Strategy which was published in May 2006 and which deals with the entire prison estate.

Included in the number (30) outlined above are seven dedicated Addiction Nurse Officers which were appointed under the Irish Prison Service Drugs Policy and Strategy. These seven Addiction Nurse Officers have been allocated, to date, solely to support drug treatment in the prisons. In addition to prison nurse officers, additional prison officers, a psychologist and contract addiction counsellors (24 whole-time-equivalents) have been also provided to support prison drug treatment.

The role of the nurse in the Prison Addiction Service is to provide a standard of nursing care to service users in a primary health care prison setting that conforms to best practice and An Bord Altranais code of professional conduct.

As the Deputy will no doubt appreciate, drug rehabilitation programmes for prisoners involve a significant multidimensional input by a diverse range of general and specialist services provided both by the Irish Prison Service and visiting statutory and non-statutory organisations. The programmes seek to reduce the demand for drugs within the prison system through education, treatment and rehabilitation services for drug-addicted prisoners. Particular initiatives include, inter alia, the provision of detoxification, methadone maintenance, education programmes, addiction counselling, and drug therapy programmes.

Under the Drugs Policy & Strategy — Keeping Drugs Out of Prisons — existing drug treatment programmes are being expanded and enhanced with the further recruitment of nurses, psychologist and the above mentioned addiction counsellors, as well as other staff including prison officers. The expansion of these services is being achieved in partnership with community based services and will see a significant improvement in the range, quality and availability of drug treatment services in the prisons.

Specific developments to date include:

The awarding of a contract for the provision of Addiction Counsellor Services to Merchants Quay Ireland. The Addiction Counselling Service will, in conjunction with other developments, deliver nearly 1000 hours per week of prisoner access to addiction counselling;

The allocation of additional Nurse Officers and Prison Officers to Dedicated Drug Treatment Teams in prisons with significant needs, improving service quality in prisons, along with the provision of funding under the Dormant Accounts Fund to community groups to provide addiction counselling and support to prisoners while in prison and on release in the community;

The provision of additional specialist sessions in addiction psychiatry, significantly improving the quality, coordination and availability of drug treatment in prisons;

In addition, an in-reach Hepatitis C Nurse-Led Service is being contracted from St James’ Hospital to provide Hepatitis C treatment for prisoners. This service will cover the Mountjoy [465] Complex and Wheatfield in the first instance. It is hoped to expand this service to other sites if evidence of need is demonstrated; and

These services will be provided on the basis of clinical needs and will be supported by the implementation of a system of Mandatory Drug Testing (provided for in the Prisons Act 2007).

The implementation of this Policy and Strategy has also seen an intensification of efforts to eliminate the availability of illicit drugs within prisons including:

Tighter control and monitoring of prisoner visits in all closed prisons;

New visiting arrangements in most closed prisons, with visitors required to be pre-approved by the Governor and required to provide identification on each visit;

Greater use of screened visits;

Greater vigilance in examining mail by prison censors and searching of other items entering the prison;

Increased random searching of cells and their occupants;

Stricter searching of all persons committed to custody and prisoners returning from court, temporary release, after visits or on receipt of intelligence;

Use of modern cameras and probe systems which assist in searching previously difficult areas such as hollow chair or bed legs, under floor boards and other cavities;

Installation of nets over exercise yards to prevent access to contraband items, including mobile phones and drugs; and,

Use of phone detectors and phased installation of telephone blocking technology.

I would also like to advise the Deputy that a number of new security initiatives are shortly being introduced in all closed prisons. Amongst the measures will be:

The introduction of enhanced security screening for all persons (prisoners, visitors and staff) entering our prisons;

The establishment of a drug detection dog service within the Irish Prison Service involving approximately 30 handling teams; and,

The establishment of an Operational Support Group dedicated to and developing expertise in searching and gathering intelligence on illicit material being hidden inside our prisons; they will be available in addition to the normal prison staff and can target specific security problem areas.

Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of national policy for drug treatment in the prison service here; if this policy has been rolled out in all prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7624/08]

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The Irish Prison Service is currently rolling out its Drugs Policy and Strategy — entitled Keeping Drugs out of Prison. This drugs strategy was launched in May 2006 and significant progress has been made to date in its implementation.

Drug rehabilitation programmes for prisoners involve a significant multidimensional input by a diverse range of general and specialist services provided both by the Irish Prison Service [466] and visiting statutory and non-statutory organisations. The programmes seek to reduce the demand for drugs within the prison system through education, treatment and rehabilitation services for drug-addicted prisoners. Particular initiatives include, inter alia, the provision of detoxification, methadone maintenance, education programmes, addiction counselling and drug therapy programmes.

The strategy mentioned above sees existing drug treatment programmes being expanded and enhanced with the further recruitment of nurses, psychologist and 24 dedicated addiction counsellors, as well as other staff including prison officers. The expansion of these services is being achieved in partnership with community based services and will see a significant improvement in the range, quality and availability of drug treatment service in the prisons. Specific developments to date include:

The awarding of a contract for the provision of Addiction Counsellor Services to Merchants Quay Ireland. The Addiction Counselling Service will, in conjunction with other developments, deliver nearly 1000 hours per week of prisoner access to addiction counselling.

The allocation of additional Nurse Officers and Prison Officers to Dedicated Drug Treatment Teams in prisons with significant needs, improving service quality in prisons.

The provision of funding under the Dormant Accounts Fund to community groups to provide addiction counselling and support to prisoners while in prison and on release in the community.

The provision of additional specialist sessions in addiction psychiatry, significantly improving the quality, coordination and availability of drug treatment in prisons.

In addition, an in-reach Hepatitis C Nurse-Led Service is being contracted from St James’ Hospital to provide Hepatitis C treatment for prisoners. This service will cover the Mountjoy Complex and Wheatfield in the first instance. It is hoped to expand this service to other sites if evidence of need is demonstrated.

These services will be provided on the basis of clinical needs and will be supported by the implementation of a system of mandatory drug testing (provided for in the Prisons Act 2007). The implementation of this Policy and Strategy has also seen an intensification of efforts to eliminate the availability of illicit drugs within prisons including:

Tighter control and monitoring of prisoner visits in all closed prisons;

New visiting arrangements in most closed prisons, with visitors required to be pre-approved by the Governor and required to provide identification on each visit;

Greater use of screened visits;

Greater vigilance in examining mail by prison censors and searching of other items entering the prison;

Increased random searching of cells and their occupants;

Stricter searching of all persons committed to custody and prisoners returning from court, temporary release, after visits or on receipt of intelligence;

Use of modern cameras and probe systems which assist in searching previously difficult areas such as hollow chair or bed legs, under floor boards and other cavities;

[467] Installation of nets over exercise yards to prevent access to contraband items, including mobile phones and drugs; and

Use of phone detectors and phased installation of telephone blocking technology.

In addition, a number of new security initiatives are shortly being introduced in all closed prisons including:

The introduction of enhanced security screening for all persons (prisoners, visitors and staff) entering our prisons;

The establishment of a drug detection dog service within the Irish Prison Service involving approximately 30 handling teams; and

The establishment of an Operational Support Group dedicated to and developing expertise in searching and gathering intelligence on illicit material being hidden inside our prisons; they will be available in addition to the normal prison staff and can target specific security problem areas.