Minister told Cork Prison overcrowded, ‘archaic and Dickensian’

Visiting committee says prison is ‘unfit for purpose’

B Wing in Cork Prison. Describing the prison as “unfit for purpose” and “deemed so by a number of reports”, its visiting committee also criticised the treatment of mentally ill prisoners. Photograph: Alan Betson

B Wing in Cork Prison. Describing the prison as “unfit for purpose” and “deemed so by a number of reports”, its visiting committee also criticised the treatment of mentally ill prisoners. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jun 8, 2013, 01:00

Cork Prison is constantly overcrowded to an unacceptable degree, the prison’s visiting committee has told the Minister for Justice.

The committee’s 2012 report describes some parts of the jail as being “archaic and Dickensian”.

Such conditions are “not conducive to active rehabilitation and adherence to training and pre-release courses,” committee members said in their report published yesterday by the Department of Justice.

Unfit for purpose
Describing Cork Prison as “unfit for purpose” and “deemed so by a number of reports”, the committee also criticised the treatment of mentally ill prisoners.

While acknowledging that such prisoners had access to the necessary medical supports, “the facilities for housing these prisoners are totally inadequate”. As a result, the report, treating these prisoners with human dignity was “seriously compromised”.

In response, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said in a statement that a new prison for Cork would be built from next October, and finished in “early 2016”.

The visiting committee report for Arbour Hill Prison, which is the national jail for male sex offenders, raised concerns about post release support for such prisoners.

“It is abundantly clear to us,” the committee said in their 2012 report also published yesterday, “that there is an enormous need for some type of supported transitional accommodation to facilitate acclimatisation and re-integration. . . As a humane and caring society, we are not entitled to just abandon those who are vulnerable and alone, this is especially true when such persons have sexual/behavioural issues.

“Indeed it is very much in our interest that some structure be put in place to support such persons.”

Mr Shatter said in response that he shared the visiting committee’s concerns and he noted that the prison and probation services’ 2013-2015 strategic plan would “provide a framework to engage with statutory and voluntary partners to develop and deliver programmes to address the reintegration of prisoners into the community.”

Treatment of prisoners
Three other visiting committee reports published yesterday – for Limerick, Midlands and Shelton Abbey prisons – were broadly complementary of conditions in those jails, as well as of the treatment of prisoners and the work of staff.