An article in The Irish Times, by Jason Michael, cites IPRT calls for Minister Ahern to commit to action following the Mountjoy Prison Inspection Report.
The article states that the number of inmates at Mountjoy prison has exceeded bed capacity by up to 107 prisoners, according to a report published today by the Inspector of Prisons on Mountjoy.
In the report, Judge Michael Reilly noted that despite the efforts of management and staff the prison "cannot, at present, provide safe and secure custody for its prisoners," and questions whether it is a safe environment for staff to work in.
Judge Reilly has said thet Mountjoy has "consistently operated far beyond its design bed capacity" since his appointment as inspector, despite the fact that bed capacity was "significantly increased" at the prison. Prisoners are accommodated on mattresses on the floor in cells which are already occupied, in cells not meant for that purpose, in holding cells in the reception area or in the shower room in the B Base, according to Judge Reilly.
The article cites the Inspector thus: "On the nights of 24th February 2009 and 21st May 2009 the stated bed capacity of the prison was 573. On these dates the population of the prison was respectively 660 and 680." The Isnpector has said that numbers must be reduced to 540.
In its reponse, the Department of Justice refers to the Thornton Hall prison building project, and states that when additional capacity becomes available in Wheatfield Prison, the Minister will move to send prisoners committed by the district courts sitting in Dún Laoghaire, Swords, Tallaght, Cloverhill and Blanchardstown to that institution rather than Mountjoy. The refurbished Separate Unit in Mountjoy is due to open end October 2009, providing 56 more spaces.
The article further cites the Director General of the Irish Prison Service as indicating that once the extra 56 spaces are available, it is his intention to keep the prison numbers at Mountjoy under 600.
The article also describes how, in 2008, of the 520 prisoners who enrolled in the prison's school, 20% could not read or write and 30% could only sign their names.
The article does on to describe the reponse of IPRT Executive Director, Liam Herrick, as saying that:
"...the report must act as a ‘watershed’ for the Irish penal system and said the delayed plans for building a new prison to replace Mountjoy can no longer be used as an excuse for not providing safe custody to prisoners.
“We cannot wait any longer for a prison that may or not be built. We need a clear statement from the Minister that he will commit to addressing the urgent issues identified in this report, and that he will give the support and leadership necessary to the Irish Prison Service in this regard,” he added.
The report is available on the department’s website.