Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 90 - Drugs in prison [28343/10].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 90 - Drugs in prison [28343/10]. (30 Jun 2010)

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90. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to comments made by the retiring governor of Mountjoy Prison (details supplied) who said that overcrowding in the jail was now so acute and conditions so brutal and appalling that they foster inmate drug use, rather than helping to break addiction; the steps being taken to deal with conditions there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I am aware of the comments made by the retiring Governor of Mountjoy Prison as referred to in your question. Mountjoy Prison is a Victorian prison which is now 160 years old. I accept that conditions in Mountjoy Prison are not ideal but I do not accept that conditions are inhumane. Deputies on all sides accept the need to replace the entire Mountjoy complex with a modern, regime focussed campus at Thornton Hall and the Government and I are fully committed to this project. The need for prisoners who request protection to be accommodated in separate areas from other identified persons from whom they may be at risk is of primary importance. The renovated Separation Unit has opened and includes 50 new spaces for protection prisoners. Prisoners in the Separation Unit have access to a full range of services including medical, gym facilities, the probation service and the chaplaincy service. Efforts are made on a continuous basis to transfer protection prisoners out of Mountjoy Prison to other locations where they would not require such a restricted regime, e.g. protection landings in Wheatfield or the Midlands Prisons or to another prison where they would not require protection.
As I have freely acknowledged it is the case that there has been a consistent increase in the total prisoner population over recent years. This situation is particularly apparent over the past 12 months during which time the total number in custody has increased by 429. This represents a rise of over 11% in the numbers in custody.  The Inspector of Prisons, in his 2008 Annual Report, acknowledged that overcrowding in prisons is an international problem, which is not unique to Ireland. The Irish Prison Service has been engaged in an extensive programme of investment in prisons infrastructure which has involved both the modernisation of the existing estate and the provision of extra prison spaces. Since 1997 close to 1,800 new prison spaces have come on stream in the prison system.
Current projects will see in excess 200 prison spaces provided in the short term by means of the opening of a new block in Wheatfield. In addition, we hope to proceed in late 2010 with a new accommodation block in the Portlaoise/Midlands prisons complex which will provide 300 prison spaces in the medium term. Also in the short term, work is due to commence on converting an administrative building on the Dóchas site into a new accommodation block. This accommodation will provide approximately 50 spaces and is due to be completed later this year. The new prison campus at Thornton Hall, County Dublin will provide accommodation for 1,400 cells with operational flexibility to accommodate up to 2,200 in a range of security settings. The development is now proceeding on a phased basis.
The IPS focuses on providing prisoners with the range and access of drug treatment options which is equivalent to that available in the community. At present, any person entering prison giving a history of opiate use and testing positive for opioids is offered a medically assisted symptomatic detoxification if clinically indicated. Patients can, as part of the assessment process, discuss with healthcare staff other treatment options. These may include stabilisation on methadone maintenance for persons who wish to continue on maintenance while in prison and when they return to the community on release. Drug rehabilitation programmes for prisoners involve a significant multidimensional input by a diverse range of general and specialist services provided both by the Irish Prison Service and visiting statutory and non-statutory organisations. Drug treatment programmes currently in place in prisons, including Mountjoy, seek to reduce the demand for drugs within the prison system through education, treatment and rehabilitation. In Mountjoy initiatives include the provision of detoxification, methadone maintenance, education programmes, addiction counselling, drug therapy programmes and ‘work and training’ options, which assist in addressing their substance misuse issues. There are currently in excess of 250 prisoners in Mountjoy on methadone substitution treatment. Mountjoy has initiated a programme involving addiction nurses, a professional drug treatment pharmacist service, and a clinical addiction team with consultant oversight. This has resulted in a more streamlined service, better assessment and through care outcomes.
The Medical Unit in Mountjoy Prison has 9 places specifically allocated for the therapeutic drug free programme. This programme is 6 weeks in duration; the model used is a collaborative one using prison based staff and the community/ voluntary sector. Its aim is to assist prisoners in achieving a drug free status. Significant investment has been committed in recent years to respond to addiction issues in the prison system including the awarding of a contract for the provision of addiction counselling services to Merchants Quay Ireland in 2008 (delivering approximately 1,500 prisoner contacts per month). Given the large number of prisoners requiring drug treatment services, the IPS endeavours to provide a comprehensive range of such services in closed prisons including Mountjoy.
Vol. 714 No. 1 
Written Answers. – Drugs in Prisons
30 June 2010

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