The Government has published draft legislation that would put the Irish Prison Service (IPS) on a statutory footing, with defined functions.
The service is currently a non-statutory executive office of the Department of Justice, with a large degree of operational autonomy, but no legal personality or defined functions.
The Department of Justice described the IPS as “a crucial part of the criminal-justice system” that was having to deal with increasing governance obligations, along with the service and capacity challenges generated by population growth.
It was first set up under a 1998 Government decision that approved its establishment on an initial administrative basis to prepare the ground for an intended statutory Prisons Authority.
The planned legislation, however, was never brought forward, and the IPS has remained an arm of the department.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has now received Government approval to publish the general scheme of the Irish Prison Service Bill 2023.
Under the bill, the functions of the IPS will include providing safe and secure custody, upholding human rights, and supporting prisoner rehabilitation.
The service will have oversight from an independent non-executive board, while further support will be provided by a dedicated audit committee, and by other expert committees as required.
Under the draft law, the IPS is charged with providing services and activities to support the health, self-respect and spiritual, moral and mental well-being of prisoners.
It must also provide prisoners with educational, training and other developmental opportunities.
The bill will also formalise the IPS Director General’s accountability to the minister for the overall management of the prison system.
The Minister for Justice will continue, however, to provide “policy direction” and to approve the service’s broader corporate strategy and capital investment.
“This bill will help to ensure that the IPS is best positioned to fulfil its mandate and to meet future challenges – including its role in the effective management of prison numbers, resources and penal policy reforms,” the minister stated.
The IPS currently has more than 3,500 staff, an annual budget of more than €420 million, and an average of approximately 4,700 prisoners in custody on a given day.