Prison bosses are reviewing their treatment programme for convicted sex offenders after new evidence indicates the current service is too restrictive.
Psychologists have also said a major expansion in their staffing is needed to provide a service to all sex crime inmates.
The latest report from the Inspector of Prisons (IoP) said the Building Better Lives (BBL) programme for sex offenders in the Midlands Prison and Arbour Hill had “strict inclusion and exclusion criteria”.
About 20-25 inmates take part in it, on average, annually and it takes place in the last two years of prisoners' sentences.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) head of psychology told the IoP that as a result of emerging evidence and new Council of Europe recommendations, the IPS had decided a review of the current programme was needed.
Recommendations for change include “a significant reduction in the barriers” for accessing treatment, including:
- Early engagement of sex offenders is of benefit rather than the last two years of their terms;
- Treatment is also effective for offenders on short sentences, not just those on long sentences.
The head of psychology said the BBL was short two psychologists and a part-time senior psychologist, but needed five psychologists and one full-time senior psychologist to provide a service to all sex offenders in prison.
In relation to the Midlands Prison generally, the report found 400 inmates (half the total population) were on a waiting list to see a psychologist and the waiting list for triage was six to 18 months.
The report, part of the IoP’s thematic Covid-19 inspections of prisons, found there were two Merchants Quay addiction counsellors for 800 prisoners.
Some prisoners told the inspectorate that use of tablets (including the likes of prescription tablets) was “way worse” during Covid-19.
A separate IoP Covid-19 report on Dóchas women’s prison in Dublin said “bullying was on ongoing issue” in the prison, including physical altercations, threats and banging on doors.
A small number of inmates claimed some prison officers played a role in enabling bullying.
Senior management highlighted the lack of staffing — particularly in governor grades — and staff supervision impacted the management of bullying behaviour.
Staff also said they did not feel equipped to deal with the mental health needs of prisoners.
The Central Mental Hospital did operate an in-reach service, with 20 women on the caseload and no waiting list.
There were 35 open cases with the psychology service, with 15 women on a waiting list, with the longest waiting time six months.
The report found 40% of women were on methadone. Some 40-50 women were getting addiction counselling, with 20 women on a waiting list.
It said access to residential drug treatment programmes and housing were key issues.
It said 20-30% of inmates were Traveller women and that 30% were remand prisoners awaiting trial.
The report said senior management believed the current environment stripped the women of skills “they need to go out” into society and flagged the need for an open prison for women.
The report raised ongoing issues regarding prisoners access to period products.