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Rejig of jail governance with advisory board to beef up external oversight

20 Sep 2019 / justice Print

Rejig of jail governance will beef up external oversight

The Irish Prison Service strategic plan 2019-22 has promised improved Governance structure with the appointment of a new Prisons Advisory Board.

The board was one of the recommendations of the Effectiveness and Renewal Group (ERG) charged with reorganising the Department of Justice and Equality.

The ERG also proposed that the Irish Prison Service become a scheduled office under primary legislation.

Framework

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan said that this work is in train to design a new governance framework which will strengthen, compliance and accountability.

“This new governance structure, together with the new advisory board, will support existing external oversight of the Irish Prison Service already in place,” the minister said.

He pledged continued improvements in conditions for prison staff who work in a “unique and sometimes difficult environment”. 

Fíona Ní Chinnéide (small picture) of the Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed the “vision and commitment” to improved governance.

“However, the prison service will not be able to achieve its strategic goals unless prisoner numbers are reduced and overcrowding addressed, and until people with mental health issues are diverted to more appropriate settings,” she said.

Low-level offending

“Ireland continues to be over-reliant on prison as a response to persistent low-level offending.

“Prison numbers must be reduced through increased use of community sanctions, and joined-up thinking across health, housing, education and other areas outside the criminal justice system. No one should be sent to prison due to a lack of services or a safe place in the community.

“Education is a key route away from offending and towards improved life outcomes everyone. However, the current reality is that staff shortages mean prison schools and workshops are regularly closed, and hundreds of prisoners are locked in their cells for more than 19 hours a day.

“Unless these systemic issues are addressed, the ambitious vision for prison education simply will not be realised,” said Ní Chinnéide.

The strategy also plans for enhanced mental and general health interventions for those in custody and a greater focus on rehabilitation.

Education

A new Prisons Education Strategy will strengthen the relationship between the Irish Prison Service and the Educational Training Boards (ETB) and the key role of education in providing rehabilitative opportunities for prisoners.

“The joint Irish Prison Service and ETB mission emphasises the provision of a programme that is quality assured, learner-centred and that facilitates life-long learning, while helping persons in custody respond to their sentence through personal development and positive renewal” he said.

Library services will integrate more closely with prison teaching and there will be enhanced use of digital systems.

The plan also sets out steps for improved coordination of community integration plans ahead of prisoner release.

Safety

It also wants to drive improved safety through increased use of technology on the prison estate.

The prisoner complaints system will be simplified and enhanced and the internal risk management will be strengthened.

The previous prisons strategic pans saw the closure of St Patrick’s Institution and the removal of juveniles from the prison system.

“Slopping out has been eliminated following the refurbishment of Mountjoy Prison in Dublin and the opening of a new prison in Cork.

Restricted regimes

A new statutory instrument Prison (Amendment) Rules 2017 (SI 276 of 2017) brings Ireland into line with the UN Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners in respect of restricted regimes and solitary confinement.

A National Violence Reduction Unit has also been developed for the management of offenders who represent the highest risk of violence to staff or other prisoners.

 

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