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Irish Prison Service To Be Established As Statutory State Body.

  • Government approves drafting of Bill to establish Irish Prison Service as a fully-fledged State body with a non-executive Board and other best practice governance and support structures.
  • General Scheme of the Irish Prison Service Bill 2023 will establish the IPS and its Director General on a statutory basis with defined functions including providing safe and secure custody, upholding human rights, and supporting prisoner rehabilitation.
  • Minister says work ongoing to Deliver 400 Extra Prison Spaces for 620 Prisoners – a 13.8% increase in bed capacity.

The Minister for Justice, Mrs Helen McEntee TD, today announced that she has secured Government approval to publish the General Scheme of the Irish Prison Service Bill 2023, and for her Department to commence work with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel on drafting the Bill.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is currently a non-statutory executive office of the Department of Justice. At present, the IPS has over 3,500 staff, an annual budget of more than €420 million, and an average of approximately 4,700 prisoners in custody on a given day. The IPS is a crucial part of the criminal justice system, with a very substantial duty of care to prisoners and staff alike and a significant role to play in making communities safer through a rehabilitation-oriented approach to prisoner management. In common with other public bodies, the IPS must also meet an increasing array of governance obligations along with the service and capacity challenges generated by population growth.

The proposed Irish Prison Service Bill will establish the IPS on a statutory footing with defined functions and responsibilities and with oversight and support from an independent non-executive board. Further support will be provided by a dedicated audit committee and by other expert committees as required. These new structures will provide the IPS with expert guidance and oversight in implementing the Government’s penal policy reform programme, in managing capital projects and in ensuring the highest standards of governance and accountability in the prison system. This will complement the primarily human rights-focused oversight already provided by external entities such as the Inspector of Prisons, the Prison Visiting Committees, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The draft law also provides that the IPS will provide prisoners with services and activities to support the health, self-respect and spiritual, moral and mental well-being of prisoners. It also provides that provide prisoners with educational, training and other developmental opportunities to enable them to spend their time in prison constructively and preparing to lead law-abiding and purposeful lives following release.

The Minister for Justice will continue to provide policy direction and to approve overarching corporate strategy and capital investment. The Bill will also formalise the Director General’s accountability to the Minister for the overall management of the prison system. This will include accountability for implementing the IPS multiannual strategic plan, annual business plan and governance framework, all of which will be placed on a statutory footing. The Minister will remain in charge of capital expenditure within the IPS, and any decision to open or close a prison will be made by the Minister.

Commenting on this important milestone, Minister McEntee said: “The Government has approved the drafting of a Bill to establish the Irish Prison Service on a statutory basis with new and enhanced governance and accountability structures.
A safe, secure and progressive prison system is a cornerstone of any well-functioning democracy. In Ireland we are fortunate to have a prison service with so many committed staff who work day-in, day-out to provide prisoners with opportunities for rehabilitation and self-development while also ensuring an orderly and disciplined prison environment. Through the provision of educational, training, employment and psychological services, we can reduce the level of re-offending and improve overall community safety.
The Bill will cement the position of the IPS as a State body with defined functions, provide it with best practice governance supports, and set out clear lines of authority and accountability for the management of the prison system. This will include establishing the position of IPS Director General as a statutory office with formal authority and accountability to match the responsibilities of the role.
This Bill will help to ensure that the IPS is best positioned to fulfil its mandate and to meet future challenges, including its role in the effective management of prison numbers, resources and penal policy reforms. Ultimately this will help to shape better outcomes for prisoners, staff and communities alike.”

The Minister also said she intends to prioritise the need for additional prison spaces because of significant population growth in recent years, as well as planned population growth in the coming years. It also arises due to increases in judicial resources and increasing numbers of Gardaí.

The Minister continued : “We are working on a plan to deliver 400 extra prison spaces across 4 different prisons. This will provide space for 620 additional prisoners across the prison estate. These additional spaces will be delivered in Castlrea, Cloverhill, the Midlands and Mountjoy prisons. It is important that the size of the prison estate keeps up with population growth, as well as increasing judicial and garda resources.”

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