Mountjoy Prison to open unit for older inmates

Rooms to be adapted for people with range of disabilities and medical conditions

Mountjoy Prison in Dublin is opening a “centre for older persons” to cater for the needs of an ageing prison population who often present with complex medical conditions.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is constructing the unit, for inmates who are older than 55 years old, within a former training unit on the prison grounds, which has been vacant since mid-2017.

Construction is currently taking place to refurbish the unit, at a cost of about €2.5 million, the IPS said.

The unit will consist of two areas: an upper floor area of 64 cells for ambulatory prisoners and a lower floor area of 32 cells, as well as two high-dependency rooms for prisoners with mobility and health issues.

Rooms will be adapted to meet the needs of various disabilities and medical presentations, including wheelchair accessibility. Some medical services will also be provided to inmates on the premises.

“The Irish Prison Service made the decision as it is required to cater for the needs of an increasing older demographic within the prison population, with more complex medical presentations. The unit will also allow for a better regime for older persons,” a spokesman said.

Semi-open system

The older person’s facility will operate as a semi-open system with prisoners having keys for the door of their own room.

The cells will not have toilets in each individual room but inmates will have 24-hour access to lavatory facilities.

The necessary refurbishment works are currently under way and the construction aspect of the project is expected to be completed shortly, the IPS spokesman added. Prisoners are expected to move into the unit on a phased basis in early March.

The training unit in Mountjoy Prison was closed temporarily and vacated by prisoners in May 2017. Prior to its closure, the unit operated as a semi-open facility which incorporated a unique arrangement offering a process of normalisation which assisted the rehabilitation of prisoners prior to their release.

The number of older people in prison has increased considerably in recent years. Figures from the IPS in 2018 show that almost 15 per cent of the national prison population was aged over 50, up from 10 per cent in 2015.

The most recent figures from December 2018 shows there were 455 prisoners aged over 50, with 447 of those being male.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has welcomed the IPS recognising the specific needs of older prisoners, but lamented the loss of the training unit.

“We regret the closing of the training unit as the only urban, semi-open prison in Ireland,” said Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director of IPRT.

“We would welcome that the Irish Prison Service is taking measures to address specific needs of older prisoners, across medical and disability, but also regime, so this is positive.”

She added: “But a huge gap remains in terms of providing increased, open prison places, and in particular in an urban setting because the reality is, the vast majority of people leaving prison return to an urban setting, not a rural setting such as Shelton Abbey or Loughlinstown.”