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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 7 - Drugs in prisons [6987/15].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 7 - Drugs in prisons [6987/15]. (19 Feb 2015)

7. Deputy Niall Collinsasked the Minister for Justice and Equality the action she has taken to implement the recommendations of the strategic review of penal policy; the way she will address the drugs crisis in our prisons; her views that the current justice system is addressing the problem of drugs effectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [6987/15]


Deputy Niall Collins: In light of the strategic review of penal policy, will the Minister outline how she intends to address the crisis of drug use and addiction in both our prisons and the wider community?


Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The Deputy's question relates to the report of the Penal Policy Review Group. Some of the group's recommendations can be implemented in the short to medium term but others will require a more long-term approach. As an initial step, last November - shortly after the report was published - I obtained permission from the Government to follow through with some very key recommendations. These include bringing forward legislative proposals to establish the parole board on an independent statutory basis; preparing proposals and options for Government on reform of sentencing policy, including a review of the threshold at which presumptive minimum sentences relating to drugs and other offences apply; preparing proposals for Government on legislating for the review's recommendation that courts should set out in writing their reasons for imposing custodial sentences; preparing proposals on the potential for increased use of earned remission; and pursuing options for an open prison for female offenders. These are the first recommendations from the report of the review group with which we have chosen to proceed. I am also establishing a group to oversee the implementation of the report's recommendations in general, with representation from key stakeholders. I recently appointed Dr. Mary Rogan - who was a member of the review group and is a former chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust - to serve as the independent chair of the new group. Dr. Rogan is an extremely competent person and I am sure her appointment will be widely welcomed.


The availability of contraband, especially drugs, in our prisons continues to be a major challenge for the Irish Prison Service. It is clear that this availability is a huge barrier to prisoner rehabilitation and reform. The Irish Prison Service is currently examining a number of key measures relating to drugs, including the enhancement of existing search capabilities and procedures, the expansion of the canine unit, the introduction of a confidential telephone line by means of which information on drug trafficking into our prisons can be given in confidence and the introduction of new technologies to prevent mobile phone. It is also considering measures to improve treatment in prison for drug addiction. The head of the Irish Prison Service is very conscious of the challenges drugs pose. Of course, those challenges must be faced by the criminal justice and prison systems in other jurisdictions. We will continue our efforts, including by means of introducing new initiatives, to deal with this scourge in our prisons.


Deputy Niall Collins: Does the Minister envisage a timeline regarding the implementation of measures to drastically reduce the availability of drugs to those in our prison system? Members of the public often, and quite rightly, comment on the reported casual availability of drugs and mobile phones in prisons. Some of the most hard-core drugs are apparently available in prisons and it is reported that inmates are using them quite openly. This beggars belief and people are wondering why action has not been taken. What measures will be introduced to combat this problem and what will be the timeline involved?

A recent edition of the Evening Herald contains some stunning images of people shooting up in broad daylight in the Dublin's north inner city in a location close to children's play areas and a number of national schools. It is reported that each year up to 12,000 used needles are removed from Dublin city centre streets and disposed of by organisations such as Dublin City Council, the Ana Liffey Drug Project and Dublin Town, which represents traders. That is a staggering number of used needles and we just do not know how many more might be found on the city's streets. The report to which I refer highlights the crisis that exists in Dublin's city centre in the context of open drug taking and the consequences that flow from it.


Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: As already stated, the issues of both drug addiction and the availability of drugs in our prisons are receiving the most serious attention. I have spoken to the director general of the Irish Prison Service in respect of this matter and he assures me that addressing it will be a key strategic action which will involve the introduction of the range of measures I outlined earlier. This issue is not dealt with casually within our prisons. There are serious and ongoing efforts to interrupt any attempts to bring drugs into prisons, including Limerick, Mountjoy etc., and I am sure the Deputy is aware of them. Every effort is made to deal with the new and ingenious ways people visiting prisons try to smuggle in drugs and the means by which those in prison try to obtain access to drugs. This is a persistent issue in prisons in Ireland and internationally. As stated, new initiatives are continually being put in place and I have outlined those that will be implemented during the course of this year in order to interrupt supply of drugs into prisons and to deal with the problems to which they give rise.


Deputy Niall Collins: The Minister stated that the Irish Prison Service is going to introduce measures. Is she in a position to provide a more definitive timeline in respect of what will be rolled out and when? Will she also outline the key indicators that will be used in respect of the targeted reduction of drug availability within our prison system? I reiterate that the public cannot understand why drugs and mobile phones are so openly available in prisons. Mobile phones give some members of the prison population the technological capability to direct the commission of crimes outside the prison system. What is the timeline involved and what key performance indicators have been set for the Irish Prison Service in respect of this matter?


Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Key components of the new drive will include an increase in the number of drug detection dog teams. Training in this regard is ongoing and all teams will be fully operational by the end of May. The introduction of a standardised screening procedure across the prison estate will ensure a consistent response to this issue in all of our institutions. The confidential telephone line to which I referred earlier and which is similar to that used by An Garda Síochána will come into operation shortly. I urge any person with useful information regarding the smuggling of drugs into prisons to use this service and assist the authorities in tackling this problem. As we are aware, intimidation can take place in respect of people who may be visiting prisoners. We want to ensure that people in possession of information or intelligence relating to this matter will report it by means of the confidential telephone line. All of these initiatives will be put in place. There was a reduction in the amount of drugs available in prisons in 2014. However, the Irish Prison Service is committed to reducing the figure in this regard even further, particularly in light of the negative effects - including self-harm, assaults, bullying and, unfortunately, even death - to which drugs smuggled into prisons can give rise.

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