Update on new open prison in Castlerea

In Families, West-Roscommon by Denis Naughten

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QUESTION NO:  151

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter)

by Deputy Denis Naughten

for WRITTEN on Thursday, 23rd May, 2013.

*  To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if prisoners to be accommodated in Harristown house, Castlerea, County Roscommon, are to be allowed to leave the grounds of Castlerea Prison to access the town as outlined at last week’s meeting with some public representatives or prohibited from such access as outlined by the Irish Prison Service to a recent meeting with the community; if he will assure the community that no prisoner convicted of a sexual offence or murder will be accommodated in this facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Denis Naughten

REPLY.

I can inform the Deputy that prisoners accommodated in Harristown House will not be permitted to access the town except to avail of therapeutic services such as Alcoholics Anonymous, as is currently the case.

I can also inform the Deputy that no prisoners convicted of a sexual offence will be accommodated at the facility. In relation to prisoners convicted of murder, no decision has yet been made as to the category of prisoner to be housed in the facility, therefore I cannot at this stage inform the Deputy as to the precise type of prisoner to be housed at Harristown House, other than the above exclusion of sex offenders. However, I can advise that the usual stringent eligibility criteria which apply to other prisoners being moved within the prison system to lower security prisons and institutions will be taken into account, fully considered, and assessed. In all these assessments, the safety of the public will be the over-riding consideration.

 

QUESTION NO:  206

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter)

by Deputy Denis Naughten

for WRITTEN on Wednesday, 15th May, 2013.

 

*  To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will outline the specific plans to address concerns expressed in the prison visitors committee report on overcrowding and staffing shortages at Castlerea Prison, County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten

 

REPLY.

I published the Castlerea Prison Visiting Committee Report on 7th May 2013. I would like to thank the Visiting Committee for their Report. The observation that Castlerea prison is a well run prison with professional staff and a high quality of medical care provided to prisoners is very encouraging. The Committee also acknowledged the good work done in the school as well as the work of the prison Chaplain.

 

I should point out that there is no reference to overcrowding in the Castlerea Visiting Committee Report for 2012.  The average number in custody in Castlerea Prison in 2012 was 361, against a bed capacity of 351. This represents an average occupancy level of 102.8% and needs to be viewed in the context of the levels of overcrowding being experienced in prisons such as Mountjoy, Cork, Limerick and the Dochas Centre. Accordingly, the priority for the Irish Prison Service is to reducing the chronic overcrowding in Mountjoy, Cork, Limerick Prisons and the Dóchas Centre in the coming year.

 

In relation to staff shortages, I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that a new staffing structure and rosters were fully implemented in Castlerea Prison in November 2012 under the implementation of the terms of the Public Service Agreement 2010 -2014 or the Transformation Programme as it is known. The new agreed staffing number for Castlerea is 211. As at 4 May 2013 there were 208 staff assigned to Castlerea which is only 3 below the authorised numbers and the Prison Service is  awaiting a work training competition which should fill the vacant posts.

 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Department of Justice and Equality

Prison Building Programme

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent) |

205. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality when he intends to meet with representatives of the local community regarding the development of an open facility by the Irish Prison Service at Harristown, County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23133/13]

Alan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael) |

I can advise the Deputy that a meeting with a group of local public representatives has been arranged for the coming days in relation to the proposed development at Harristown House at Castlerea Prison.

The Deputy will also be aware that the Director General of the Irish Prison Service met with a delegation of public representatives in relation to this issue at the Irish Prison Service Headquarters in March. In addition, the Governor of the prison and the Director of Operations for the Irish Prison Service attended a public meeting in Castlerea to discuss the matter and outline the proposals to members of the local

 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Department of Justice and Equality

Prison Security

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent) |

To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of CCTV cameras in Castlerea Prison, County Roscommon; the number of those in use; the number that can be viewed simultaneously on monitors within the prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13087/13]

Alan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael) |

I can assure the Deputy that there is a comprehensive system of CCTV coverage in place at Castlerea Prison including its perimeter boundaries.

The detailed information requested in relation to the number and operation of the various cameras and equipment cannot be supplied. As the Deputy will appreciate its disclosure could potentially compromise the security of the prison.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Department of Justice and Equality

Open Prisons

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent) |

To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if a security assessment has been completed regarding the use of Harristown House, County Roscommon as an open prison adjoining an existing secure facility; if such models exist in other jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13089/13]

Alan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael) |

As advised to the Deputy during the Adjournment Debate on 27 February 2013, Harristown House will not be an ‘Open Prison’. The house will be utilised as a low-security facility to be managed and staffed by Castlerea Prison which it adjoins.

No decision has yet to be made in relation to the type of prisoner to be housed there, however, the normal selection criteria will apply and the safety of the public will be the over-riding consideration.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Topical Issue Debate

Prison Accommodation

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue, namely, the lack of information from the Irish Prison Service in regard to the future use of Harristown House adjoining Castlerea Prison in County Roscommon. Just over two years ago, the Dáil was informed that the Irish Prison Service was developing proposals for the utilisation of the facilities at Harristown House beside Castlerea Prison, that the proposals would entail the provision of enhanced regime opportunities for approximately 20 prisoners within a secure setting and that the proposals were being evaluated and costed with a view to submitting a business case to the Department of Justice and Equality. However, when the Irish Prison Service was recently questioned on this issue by the local community, it said there were numerous options for the use of Harristown House once the refurbishment was completed and that it could not outline the plans for the building.

In a reply to a parliamentary question from Deputy Ó Cuív last Thursday, the Minister confirmed that the aim of the refurbishment is to leave the property in a suitable condition for use as a low security pre-release facility for selected prisoners when it is completed at the end of March. When was the decision made on the future use of Harristown House? When was the funding approved for this? Are there any plans to consult the local community on this decision? The views expressed locally are that Harristown House should be put to use to the benefit of the local community or reopened as a rehabilitation facility, which it so successfully operated as in the past. There is strong community opposition to any form of an open prison.

People are concerned about what exactly the plans are and this is compounded by the failure of the Irish Prison Service to engage with the public on the issue. If there is nothing to be concerned about, why is there a lack of openness on the part of the Irish Prison Service? The concerns being expressed locally are around the possibility of convicted murderers living outside the prison walls. Parents are concerned about how close public amenities are to Harristown House facilities. A number of key questions need to be answered.

A low security prison was mentioned in the reply to the parliamentary question last week. There are two such prisons in this country, namely, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey. Is that the plan envisaged for Harristown House in Castlerea? Some 128 people are now at large from both of those facilities – 103 from Loughan House and 25 from Shelton Abbey. What category of prisoner will be housed in this new facility? Will prisoners convicted of murder and serving life sentences be eligible for admission to this new facility? What length of time will a prisoner stay in the facility prior to temporary release? These are all key questions to which the local community has a right to answers in advance of any decision being made. Has a decision been made? If so, when was it made? What prisoners will be facilitated in this new unit and when will the community be consulted?

John Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, is unable to be here due to official business elsewhere and he has asked me to thank Deputy Naughten for raising this matter, in particular as it offers him the opportunity to clarity the record in regard to a number of reports which have recently appeared in both the national and local media.

At the outset, the Minister wishes to deal with the suggestion which has frequently been mentioned that only life sentenced prisoners will be housed at Harristown House. While several options remain under consideration for the optimal use of the facility, I can say that I am advised that the facility will not be restricted to housing prisoners in that category.

By way of background information, Harristown House is a 22-roomed two storey house constructed in approximately 1920. The house is located directly adjacent to Castlerea Prison in County Roscommon and until recently was used by the Probation Service to house people in its care. In that context, people usually with drug-related problems and connected issues were managed by the Probation Service at the house.

I understand the house was unoccupied and unused for approximately four years and was in a state of considerable disrepair following water damage incurred as a result of the very harsh winter of 2010-11. I am sure the Deputy will agree that in the current economic climate, it is undesirable for State-owned property to be left unoccupied and unused in circumstances where a potential or possible use for that property has been identified.

In that regard, following an examination by the Irish Prison Service, it was considered that the property was suitable for refurbishment so that it could be used as a low security accommodation unit for 15 to 18 prisoners who could be located there as part of a scheme to encourage good behaviour and trustworthiness among prisoners as part of their sentence management.

The works on Harristown House commenced in November 2012 and I am advised that those works should be completed in March 2013. Part of the works associated with the refurbishment includes the installation of CCTV equipment to monitor the house and surrounding areas, including all entrances to and exits from the house. In that regard, while no decision has yet been made as to the category of prisoner by reference to nature of offence, etc. to be housed there, I can assure the Deputy that the normal considerations in regard to risk assessment shall apply before any prisoner is transferred to the house. In the day-to-day management of the prison system, these risk assessments are made on a regular basis by officials in the Irish Prison Service in, for example, considering the suitability of the transfer of prisoners from closed prisons and institutions to open prisons and lower security facilities.

When considering the suitability of prisoners for transfer to lower security institutions, a number of factors are taken into consideration including: the safety of the public, specifically flight risk; nature and gravity of the offence; and length of sentence served and remaining. Therefore, while I cannot at this stage inform the Deputy as to the precise type of prisoner to be housed at Harristown House, I can advise that the usual stringent eligibility criteria which apply to other prisoners being moved within the prison system to lower security prisons and institutions will be taken into account, fully considered and assessed.

It is worth mentioning that open centres and lower level security settings are vital tools in the reintegration and rehabilitation of prisoners. They encourage an ethos of independent living and offer a transition between custody and community-family life. When the refurbishment works at Harristown House are completed and the house is ready for occupation, it will provide an additional and valuable resource to the Irish Prison Service in managing this transition from prison life to open living within the community. The Minister appreciates the Deputy’s interest in this matter and would like to thank him again for raising it.

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)

I am disappointed the Minister for Justice and Equality or his Aire Stáit are not here to deal with this important issue. In light of the fact the Minister is not here, can I get a commitment from the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, that I will get responses in writing to all of the questions I asked in advance of a public meeting which will take place tomorrow evening in Castlerea? From the Minister of State’s response, it is quite clear life sentence prisoners will be housed in this new facility. In reply to last week’s parliamentary question, the Minister stated CCTV coverage of the house and surrounding areas would be monitored from the control room, and the Minister of State referred to the CCTV coverage in his reply.

Can the Minister assure the public that the CCTV will work, unlike the situation that arose at the time of the break out from the Grove area of the prison, which is inside the 25 ft. high wall of Castlerea Prison? This facility is outside that wall.

Second, I acknowledge that we are in a difficult economic climate at present. In light of that, perhaps the Minister will explain something. Shelton Abbey has capacity for 110 prisoners, with a daily average occupancy in 2011 of 102. Loughan House has capacity for 160 prisoners, with a daily average occupancy rate in 2011 of 122. There is capacity within those two facilities for at least 46 additional prisoners. Why is there a need for another facility to be opened in Castlerea? Even though Castlerea prison might be overcrowded, it does not follow that there are enough prisoners in that facility suitable for transfer to an open facility outside the walls.

There has been a break out from inside the 25 ft. high wall. The prisoners in the Grove were considered to be relatively low risk or they would not have been put there in the first place. If they could get out over the wall, what assurance does the community have regarding the prisoners who will be outside that wall?

John Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)

I again thank the Deputy for his contribution and I am happy to address some of the issues raised. With regard to the clarification from the Minister, Deputy Shatter, I cannot do that, but the tone of the initial reply gives a fair idea of the Minister’s motivation.

The Minister appreciates, as I do, that there might be security related issues of concern to the local population. His officials are very concerned about that. I have already referred to the stringent risk criteria which will attach to any prisoners under consideration for accommodation at the facility. It is very important that a massive evaluation would be carried out of any prisoner who is going on the rehabilitation process. The Deputy can be assured that the authorities will not put a high risk prisoner into that house. They have been very effective in Loughan House. I have been there and it is an open prison that is cleanly managed. Obviously, there are eight people who have left and have not returned, but by and large—–

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)

There were 20 in the last year.

John Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
—–it is very well managed. While the Minister has made no final decision on the type of prisoner to be located there, all the prisoners will be subject to the normal temporary release rules and conditions. If there are any infringements of those conditions, the prisoner involved will be dealt with by the governor in the normal way.

I know Castlerea and everybody is aware of the prison there. It is a welcome facility for business in Castlerea. It brings people to the region and brings a benefit to the gross domestic product of Castlerea. There would be a major outcry if it were to be closed. Harristown House is an enhancement of that facility. From the business perspective in Castlerea, while there might be concern, there is an assurance by the State that no high risk prisoner will be put in the house. Temporary releases, which are a long established practice, assist in gradually preparing suitable offenders for release. Administering short sentences is an incentive to prisoners and an important vehicle for their reintegration into society. I know Deputy Naughten would support the reintegration of prisoners. This is about reintegration into the community before the prisoners’ release, which is not a bad thing to do.

Finally, the generally accepted view is that the risk to the community is reduced by planned reintegration of offenders prior to their return to the community on the completion of their full sentence. Each application for temporary release, for whatever reason, is examined on its merits. The safety of the public is paramount when decisions are made. The works on Harristown House commenced in November 2012 and should be completed in March 2013. Part of the works is the installation of CCTV equipment, which will be working, to monitor the house and the surrounding area, including all entrances. Furthermore, the prisoners will be supervised daily by an industrial supervisor and they will also be visited and monitored by other staff who will attend at the house at different times throughout the day.

When the house is ready for occupation it is envisaged that five or six prisoners will initially be involved. When it is operating to full capacity up to 15 prisoners might be located there at any one time. All of these prisoners will be subject to normal temporary release rules and conditions and if there are any infringements of those conditions, the prisoner involved will be dealt with. The maximum number of 15 in the house is not a huge number of prisoners. The Deputy should allay the concerns of the community. People do not have anything to be concerned about in any sense.

Denis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)

Will the Prison Service consult with them?

John Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
Of course it will.