Minister Shatter announces consideration being given to the construction of a replacement prison in Cork as part of an overall strategy to reduce overcrowding

Early in his appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality, Minister Alan Shatter, T.D., visited Cork prison and saw first hand the chronic levels of overcrowding and inadequate physical infrastructure, including the lack of in-cell sanitation. He subsequently instructed the new Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Michael Donnellan to come up with proposals to address these serious issues as a matter of urgency. A strategy entitled "Unlocking Community Alternatives – a Cork Approach" was recently submitted to the Minister who today announced that he is proceeding with the implementation of the strategy to address overcrowding and accommodation issues in Cork prison.

The strategy comprises two essential elements:

· firstly exploring the feasibility of replacing the existing prison through the construction of a new prison with all related and support ancillary services, on the adjacent prison car park site (capacity to be in the region of 250 prisoners), and

· secondly the enhancement of sentence management, prisoner interventions and structured release of suitably risk assessed prisoners into the community on a multi agency approach basis.

Minister Shatter said "In the context of a daily average prisoner population of 295, the accommodation currently available in Cork prison is wholly inadequate, both in terms of its size and in relation to the lack of in-cell sanitation. The construction of a new, modern 250 space prison would eliminate the practice of prisoners having to slop out; provide adequate and suitable accommodation for all prisoners in accordance with our national and international obligations and would also provide the infrastructure necessary for the education and rehabilitation of prisoners thus enhancing public safety."

"Building on the existing car park site would also ensure value for money for the tax payer" added the Minister. The Thornton Hall Review Group recommended the building of a new prison to serve the Munster area on a 160 acre site owned by the Department of Defence in Kilworth, Co Cork. However, the reduced capital envelope this year will not allow the Prison Service to proceed with the development of Kilworth. Such a venture on a greenfield site would incur significant additional costs arising from the requirement to build an access road, perimeter wall and install services such as water and foul to the site. To date, however, no significant expenditure has taken place in relation to the Kilworth site".

The Minister asked his officials to look at alternatives to this site and to come up with a much more cost effective solution. "Taking all of these factors into account, I am satisfied that, in the current economic climate, the approach which is now proposed is the most prudent and cost effective. The Irish Prison Service have been asked to prepare plans for such a development within the existing 2012-2016 Justice Capital Programme. A final decision will be made when detailed plans, design and costs have been finalised." 

The second element of the strategy "Unlocking Community Alternatives - A Cork Approach" is focused on the reduction of the chronic overcrowding currently being experienced in the prison.

In a multi-agency approach, and in partnership with the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service is developing mechanisms for coordination and cooperation between Cork prison and community-based services in order to identify effective community based programmes which could act as alternatives to custody for suitably risk assessed prisoners serving short term sentences in Cork prison.

Minister Shatter continued "The intention is not simply to relieve overcrowding but also to develop a more integrated approach to the management of offenders while in custody and on release into the community. Building a bridge from the community into the prison ensures that prisoners can tap into, at an earlier stage, the available supports and programmes in their communities, which is essential in aiding their reintegration back into the community on release from prison and reducing repeat offending.

"I was heartened to hear that over 100 people drawn from statutory and non-statutory community-based services attended a multi agency meeting in Cork on 27 January, 2012 to discuss this issue and to come up with concrete actions which could be taken in partnership. The rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners is not a task which can be achieved by the Prison Service in isolation and I am confident that the partnership approach now being adopted will provide dividends not only for the prisoners concerned but also for local communities."

"When I visited Cork prison I saw first hand the inadequate physical conditions, however, I also witnessed first hand the excellent work carried out on a day to day basis by the staff and senior management team at the prison under the guidance of Governor Jim Collins. I look forward to returning to Cork prison in the coming months to discuss progress on the implementation of this strategy which, when fully implemented, will provide a prison fit for purpose and improve the reintegration prospects of prisoners thereby creating safer local communities"

A copy of the "Unlocking Community Alternatives – a Cork Approach" strategy is available on the Irish Prison Service website.

29 February 2012