A radical overhaul of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) aims to improve staff safety and tackle overcrowding in Irish prisons.
It will also introduce modern technology to address emerging issues with drones and overhaul the governance of the IPS to “ensure an open, transparent and accountable prison service”.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan launched the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2019–2022. It maps out a series of aims for the coming years, including plans to improve the environment for both staff and prisoners.
The report details the challenges faced by the IPS in recent years, including the issue of overcrowding.
Since January 1, 2018, there has been an 11%rise in the number in custody. Numbers are exceeding 4,000 “on a regular basis”. This includes a 21% increase in the number of female prisoners in the last two years and a doubling of the number of prisoners over the age of 50 in the last 10 years.
Caron McCaffrey, director-general of the IPS, said there are “ambitious plans to strengthen governance and accountability, improve the prisoner journey, and the safety and security of our prisons”.
“We will further support the integration of prisoner support services to deliver more effective rehabilitation to prisoners and thereby reducing re-offending and creating safer communities.
“We will create a more safe and secure custodial setting in our estate, making prisons a safer place for staff, prisoners, and visitors,” she said.
Among the aims included in the strategy is the review of prison healthcare, while there are also plans to improve psychological and rehabilitation supports and to better coordinate with local authorities to reduce homelessness for those exiting prison.
IPS also plans to use modern technology to minimise the “increasing threats posed by drone incursions” and to review policies of open centres and temporary release in a bid to tackle over-crowding.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed plans to strengthen governance and accountability but said, ultimately, plans will fail unless prisoner numbers are tackled and more appropriate structures are established.
Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director of the trust said: “The prison service will not be able to achieve its strategic goals unless prisoner numbers are reduced and overcrowding addressed, and until people with mental health issues are diverted to more appropriate settings.
“Ireland continues to be over-reliant on prison as a response to persistent low-level offending. Prison numbers must be reduced through increased use of community sanctions, and joined-up thinking across health, housing, education, and other areas outside the criminal justice system.