Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Written answer 506 – Departmental review [Prisons] [6840/23].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Written answer 506 – Departmental review [Prisons] [6840/23]. (14 Feb 2023)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2023...

506. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Justice the position of the review of the Irish Prison Service’s 2006 ‘Keeping Drugs out of Prison’ policy and strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6840/23]

Simon Harris Minister for Justice: The issue of drug use continues to be a major challenge facing prisons systems across the globe. Large proportions of the people who come into contact with the criminal justice system, and who enter prison, have a history of drug use.

A 2014 study for the World Health Organisation estimated that half the prison population of the EU had a history of drug use and many continue to use drugs while in prison. Addiction is a known contributory factor in criminality and as a consequence, there is an over-representation of drug users in prisons.

Prisons are an important component of the overall response to drug problems in Irish society. The prison environment provides a unique opportunity to support individuals to address addiction and in this regard it is essential that the range of treatment and intervention options available ensure the best possibility of a positive outcome.

The scale of the activity and commitment of prison staff and other in-reach service providers in tackling this issue should be recognised.

Among the ways the Prison Service aims to support prisoners in maintaining drug free lives is by tackling the trafficking of contraband into prisons, including the smuggling of illegal drugs, thereby reducing supply. This is done alongside initiatives to reduce demand for drugs through the provision of drug treatment and addiction services to prisoners.

In 2020, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prison Service had completed an initial review of the 2006 Drugs Policy with a view to developing a new Policy. Finalisation of the new Policy was delayed, first as result of Covid and then to allow account be taken of the recommendations arising from the work of the High Level Task Force established to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of those who come into contact with the criminal justice sector, which was published in September 2022.

I can advise the Deputy that the review of the Irish Prison Service’s Keeping Drugs out of Prison Policy is now at an advanced stage. Following a costing exercise the draft document will be considered by the Irish Prison Service leadership team and it is expected to be published later this year.

This being said it is important to note that the Prison Service continues to work to enhance and improve its level of medical service delivery to prisoners. The Deputy may be aware of the Health Needs Assessment Steering Group which was established in 2018, following a memorandum of understanding between the then Minister for Justice and Minister for Health. It will take forward an independent review of the current and future delivery of appropriate provision of healthcare services to people in custody.

The Health Needs Assessment, both for the Irish Prison Service as a whole and for the 12 individual prisons within the Prison Service estate, commenced in November 2019 and was undertaken by independent consultants Crowe Ireland.

The report of this assessment, following deliberations between the Prison Service and both Departments over its recommendations, is now completed. It was sent to both the Minister for Health and to me for review and it is our intention to publish the report once that review is completed.

In addition, the Prison Service has recently established a Steering Group to review the current Drug Treatment Programme and, if necessary, propose to revise this programme to ensure it is contemporaneous and in line with the goals of the National Drugs Strategy Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017 - 2025. This includes the provision of treatment, rehabilitation, recovery, education, information and support, so that those affected by substance misuse are empowered to improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life.

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