The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is now seeking expressions of interest from those wishing to run a visitors’ centre at the prison when it opens next year.
The specially designed drop-in centre will be open six days a week at the prison on the Rathmore Road.
“This facility will provide a hospitable, safe, caring and supportive environment for children and families of prisoners, many of whom are in a vulnerable state prior to and after a prison visit,” the IPS stated in an expression of interest advertisement.
“It is envisaged that the facility will provide childcare services, play areas with arts and crafts facilities and support for families dealing with the impact of imprisonment.”
Construction on the €35m prison began last year and the first inmates are expected be taken in next year.
Those visiting the closed medium-security prison, which serves Cork, Kerry, and Waterford, will be able to make use of the service from 9.30am to 4.30pm.
It is expected that the centre would be similar to projects which run in some other prisons.
One such project is the Bedford Row visitor centre in Limerick Prison.
Project leader Larry de Cléir said the Bedford Row Family Project, which is a registered charity, began 16 years ago by simply offering refreshment to visitors. This has now developed into a support service involving social workers, family support staff, councillors, and other volunteers.
“We try to support people who are visiting who may have difficulties or dilemmas as a result of their loved ones being imprisoned,” said Mr de Cléir.
“We do a lot of listening, people who have travelled long distances particularly appreciate it. For some people who are visiting for the first time, it can be particularly difficult or then there are people who may be refused a visit which is also difficult so we talk to them all.”
He said the centre at Limerick prison is run by one-full-time member of staff who is supported by volunteers. Visits are held every two hours at the prison and family members can drop in at any time.
Individuals or organisations wishing to submit an expression of interest in running the new service at Cork prison have until November 27 to do so.
“The successful service provider will be required to both manage and provide the staffing for the provision of the service,” the IPS said.
The prison, next to the current jail, will be built to state-of-the-art standards.
However, plans for the new 275-berth prison have been criticised as it will accommodate two prisoners per cell. Other older jails, such as Dublin’s Mountjoy, are being renovated to make cells single occupancy.
Before work began, then justice minister Alan Shatter said single-cell occupancy is the ideal but was not possible for the Cork facility.
“It will have the appropriate facilities such as toilets and showers [in cells] to ensure people are dealt with in a humane way,” Mr Shatter said.