Expansion plans for Cork Prison which include double occupancy cells have been described as “regrettable and regressive” by the Irish Penal Reform Trust.
In a strongly worded statement issued last night, the trust said having two inmates per cell ran counter to European prison rules, which state that single occupancy “should be the norm”, and double-occupancy used only “in exceptional circumstances”.
The trust’s executive director Liam Herrick said instead of increasing capacity at Cork Prison, there was a need for “increased use of rigorous community-based alternatives, investment in probation and community services, an overall reduction of the use of imprisonment for less serious offences, and better reintegration supports before and after release to support a reduction in re-offending”.
Mr Herrick said overcrowding, slopping out and inadequate visiting facilities were among critical issues that needed to be addressed now, before the new prison was in operation. Cork Prison regularly houses in excess of 250 prisoners even though the inspector of prisons has previously stated it should accommodate no more than 146.
The trust has consistently identified chronic overcrowding and inhumane conditions in Cork as among the most critical in the Irish prison system, with multiple occupancy of cells, in-cell sanitation available in only eight of its 144 cells, and inadequate medical and visiting facilities.
Meanwhile Justice Minister Alan Shatter has tweaked designs for the new €22m prison as part of a package of measures designed to ease local concerns.
The news emerged yesterday as the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence, and Equality unanimously supported Mr Shatter’s proposal for the construction of the prison next to the existing overcrowded prison on Rathmore Rd.
The committee’s consent for the project must now be confirmed by an act of the Oireachtas under a special planning process laid down in Part 4 of the Prisons Act 2007.
Mr Shatter said he expects this will be forthcoming before the Dáil’s summer recess, clearing the way for the issuing of tenders and the awarding of contracts.
The prison could be operational by spring 2016, he said, despite strong opposition from hundreds of local residents, and a detailed submission from Cork City Council outlining several concerns.
Mr Shatter told committee members yesterday that the construction of a modern prison in Cork will eliminate the practice of prisoners having to slop out, and provide suitable accommodation for all prisoners in accordance with national and international obligations.
In response to specific local concerns, Mr Shatter set out a range of measures, including the use of visually conditioned concrete on sections of the perimeter wall; a reduction in height of sections of the perimeter wall, and the drawing up by the Irish Prison Service of a ‘good neighbour’ policy to work with residents during the construction phase.
* The prison will have one-, two-, and three- storey buildings, covering some 15,000 sq m over a 2.64 ha site.
* The complex will be bounded by a 7.2m perimeter wall.
* The day-to-day design capacity is 275 spaces based on double-cell occupancy.
* It will have a peak capacity for 310 prisoners — only reached in emergencies.
* All cells will have integral toilets and showers, thereby ending the practice of slopping-out.
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