Anne-Marie O’Shea, a volunteer co-ordinator with St Nicholas Trust, said there is no data on the number of fathers in the prison who have children.
No physical contact is allowed during the screened visits at Cork Prison, but the St Nicholas Trust, which has provided support services for families of prisoners since 2010, said any argument that the policy kept drugs out of the prison was outweighed by the societal costs of the harm done to families.
Thick glass and elevated partitions make even conversation difficult, she said.
“It’s mayhem in there,” said Ms O’Shea. “The noise level is so loud. It’s like a flock of birds.”
The trust operates its services from a small area within the prison but, she said, “we need a visiting centre on the grounds. The area we have at the moment is literally a tiny coffee dock. We need a large area, with loads of light, bright colours, a secure area for children where they can play.”
She said that Cork Prison was behind other jails around the country in terms of the supports available to visiting family members, adding: “We have come across people who do not bring their kids as much as they can because of the visiting process in Cork Prison.”