Inspector criticises closure of sole semi-open prison

The Office of the Prison Inspector has strongly criticised the decision to close the country’s only semi-open prison and said it conflicted with stated official policy.

The inspection report on the Training Unit said that despite the problems it identified at the jail it provided “very important rehabilitative” services to prisoners.

The Training Unit was the country’s only semi-open low-security prison, with a relaxed and informal internal regime, where the focus was on prisoner reintegration to the community.

It aimed to provide work, education and training to prisoners approaching the end of their sentence in preparation for their release.

Report author Helen Casey said that since her inspections, a decision had been made to close the unit, refurbish it and to turn it into a facility for older prisoners. The inmates in the unit have been transferred to Mountjoy West, or the old St Patrick’s Institution, which is a closed prison.

Ms Casey, who conducted the inspections and completed the report after the death of the prison inspector Judge Michael Reilly, said she welcomed the creation of a jail for ‘older’ prisoners.

But she said this “should not be created at the expense of one of the more positive aspects” of the Irish Prison Service.

“The ultimate aim of any humane society that punishes those who commit offences through the deprivation of liberty must be their reintegration into society,” said the report.

Ms Casey said this was the aim of both the IPS and the Penal Policy Review Group, which published its final report in 2014.

The group specifically called for an “increase in the use of open prisons” and considered the possibility of opening one in the Dublin area.

“Notwithstanding the fact that there are problems within the Training Unit, it does provide a very important rehabilitative avenue for prisoners with the Irish prison estate,” she said.

“In my opinion, the current proposal to redesignate the Training Unit is not in keeping with the aforementioned Penal Policy Review recommendation and conflicts with a strategic objective of the Irish Prison Service Capital Strategy 2016-2021.”

Ms Casey added: “I could only support the closure of the Training Unit if assured that prisoners would benefit from the same regime in a similar facility.

“Regrettably, that assurance has not been forthcoming and I am of the view that the imminent move to Mountjoy West cannot support the semi-open prison ethos.”

The IPS said that the decision to close the Training Unit some months ago was because the unit was “outdated and lacked in cell sanitation” and that there was a plan to refurbish the prison and turn it into a facility for older prisoners.

The IPS said all the inmates in the unit had been transferred to Mountjoy West and most of them are on day release.

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