Staff shortages, overcrowding, drugs and inmate violence are just some of the key issues highlighted in reports on 14 prisons across the country.
The Prison Visiting Committee reports for 2015 highlight a range of good and improving practices across the Irish prison system. However, issues around drug taking, violence and overcrowding persist.
In Cloverhill, the visiting committee noted that the introduction of yard hubs at the prison “does not protect prisoners as serious assaults have occurred”.
“There is concern that the use of the hubs will lead to further serious incidents occurring,” notes the report.
The committee also expressed its disappointment that the passive drug detection dog is not used during the week, while there was a “substantial increase” in the number of prisoners requesting protection on committal.
The lack of a psychologist in the prison was also noted, with the committee expressing its opinion that there is “an urgent need” for a full-time one.
Problems noted in previous reports on Dóchas were raised again — namely overcrowding; drugs; imprisonment of mothers; homelessness; and difficulty in accessing addiction or counselling services on release.
The Committee noted that the centre is designed to accommodate 105 prisoners but on random checks undertaken the numbers regularly reached 120. It expressed concern that this pattern of regular overcrowding will continue.
The issue of homelessness and accommodation on release as well as the difficulty in accessing supports and help post-release was also cited as an issue which needed to be addressed.
In Mountjoy prison, the visiting committee noted that it is frequently at 98% or 99% of its capacity.
The committee commented on the dedication of staff and said it would be helpful, and in the interests of prisoner welfare and rehabilitation, if additional staff were allocated to the prison.
The number of protection prisoners rose in 2015, with more than one in four prisoners under a restricted prison regime. Concern was expressed for the mental health of prisoners in the protection system and the committee called for this situation to be reviewed “as a priority”.
Commenting on the reports, Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald addressed the issue of homelessness for offenders on release: “The Irish Prison Service has been actively working through the Regional Homeless Consultative Fora as well as working directly with the Departments of Environment and Social Protection to provide an appropriate in-reach service to ensure that prisoners are assisted to find accommodation before release.”
Ms Fitzgerald praised the work of the committees in ensuring the quality of accommodation, catering, medical, educational, welfare and recreational facilities.
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