The transfer of prisoners from Cork jail to the new prison facility will be the biggest in the history of the State, and the improved conditions will contribute to prisoners’ wellbeing and subsequent reintegration to society, governor Pat Dawson tells Eoin English

INMATES at one of the State’s oldest prisons will be transferred to the country’s newest jail — a €42m state-of-the-art facility — within weeks.

A major security and logistics operation is now being planned to facilitate the relocation on February 12 of about 150 inmates from the old Cork Prison on Rathmore Rd, which dates from the 1820s, a few hundred metres to the new jail which has been built over the last 20 months on a six-acre site.

It will be the largest single transfer of inmates from one fully operational prison to a newly commissioned prison in the history of the State.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) said it hopes the entire operation will be complete within the day.

Conditions in the old prison have been condemned consistently over the years.

Designed for 146 inmates and with a maximum capacity of 194, its committal figures in mid-2010 reached a peak of 330, with up to 60 cells at the time sleeping three, with one on the floor. The lack of in-cell sanitation means prisoners have to slop out daily.

But prison governor Pat Dawson said yesterday that the commissioning of the new prison will mark a “new dawn”.

“We have a better chance to do something better and different here because we have a better, newer and a cleaner facility,” he said.

And while an inmate will have access to small in-cell TVs, to gyms with rowing machines and treadmills, to a sports hall, to a family-friendly visiting room and garden, to workshops and education courses, Mr Dawson stressed their liberty has been denied.

The entire complex is separated by an imposing 7.2m, or 24-ft high perimeter concrete wall. The exercise yards are 50m from the wall, aimed to deter the smuggling of contraband. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

A normalised environment and an enhanced level of family interaction can help people through their prison sentence, he said.

“If we can normalise the environment, and allow people to live normal lives in prison, we have a better chance, and it has been proven, of them assimilating into society when they leave.

“Yes, they have televisions and gyms, but they can’t chose to go to the pub to watch the match, they can’t chose to go to the shop. We control all of that.

“The loss of liberty is the key. You’ve lost all of your contact with your family, with your employment and with all of those things. It’s up to us to make sure that you have something to get back to when you get out.”

Prisoner (L) and visitor (R) meeting room in the new Cork Prison. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

The new 169-cell jail designed to hold 275 inmates, laid out in a digital-eight shape with the cells area set over three-floors on two parallel wings, includes:

  • Two disabled persons cells, eight segregation cells, seven high support cells, two safety observatory cells, and 10 committal cells;
  • Airport-style security scanners in the main access areas;
  • A family-friendly visitor room and garden;
  • Several education classrooms and workshops;
  • Recreation rooms and outdoor yards with phones, gyms, a horticulture area, and a huge sports hall;
  • A hi-tech security system, including a network of over 300 CCTV cameras.

Each cell now has in-cell sanitation including a toilet, a wash basin, with hot water, and a small shower area, which is partially partitioned from the bunk beds.

The new facilities will finally end the practice of slopping out, and at 12sq ft each for two prisoners, the cells are more spacious than the old prison, where 8sq ft cells often slept three inmates.

The entire complex is separated by an imposing 7.2m, or 24ft high perimeter concrete wall, with a ‘cordon sanitaire’ between it and the outside of the jail buildings.

The prison’s cooking area. The governor said a better environment will help prisoners through their sentence. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

The exercise yards are laid out on internal courtyards — some 50m from the perimeter wall, which prison authorities hope will deter the practice of contraband, including drugs, being thrown over the outside wall.

Mr Dawson, who was involved in the relocation of inmates and staff to an extension of the Midlands Prison some years ago, praised the level of support and co-operation from prison staff ahead of the move in just over two weeks.

“They have shown a level of flexibility that’s amazing. But I think that’s borne out of the fact that everybody sees how good a facility this is,” he said during a tour of the new jail yesterday.

The development of a family-friendly visits garden is a key part of the new jail’s approach, he said.

Using the IPS’s incentivised and earned privileges scheme, which determines a prisoner’s access to phone calls and visits, inmates will be cleared for visits at one of three security levels.

Cell wing (L )and main prison wall (R) of the new Cork Prison. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

The lowest security level will allow family visits to take place in an open area, which opens onto a secure and fenced garden, with benches, flowers and synthetic grass, but all roofed with security netting.

He said the prison authorities have implemented a range of security measures to stop drugs coming into prisons, and have several drug education and awareness programmes in place. But he said drug problems in society are mirrored in the prison system.

“Prison is society’s answer as a sanction, at a level,” he said. “There are people who need to be in prison, and prison provides protection to society from those people.

“But prison needs to be a little deeper than that, in terms of how it interacts with society to enable people to reintegrate when they leave the prison.”

Mr Dawson said the IPS also plans to liaise closely with local residents.

The old prison will be mothballed from February 12 with the IPS and Department of Justice expected to take some time to decide its fate.

Cells in the new prison will allow for 12sq ft each for two sharing compared to 8sq ft, often between three. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

The new jail was built by PJ Hegarty & Sons — its first full prison build. Director Tim Healy said at peak construction, more than 280 people were employed on the project.

He said the company has bid for the contract to build new facilities at Limerick Prison, where prisoners in A-wing are still slopping out.

The IPS plans to replace its B-wing, which has been vacant for several years, with a new block providing single-cell accommodation with in-cell sanitation for about 100 prisoners. It is hoped that work will start this year.

There are also plans to develop a new standalone 50-cell unit for female inmates at Limerick.

It is also hoped to eliminate the practice of slopping out in Portlaoise jail soon. 

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