Review of meal times and new hiring process sought under prison reform plan

Changes proposed by management linked to new public service pay agreement

The Irish Prison Service is seeking a review of meal times for prisoners as well as new arrangements for recruitment as part of proposed revised work practice reforms.

Management also wants co-operation with enhanced staff-searching procedures of everyone entering prisons. It said such changes would be subject to bilateral engagement between the parties.

The proposed reforms are set out in a new action plan, published by the Department of Public Expenditure, which is linked to the public service pay agreement reached between the Government and trade unions last December.

The reform plan for the prison service is one of about half a dozen such documents setting out proposed changes in different parts of the public service. The pay deal will see most public service personnel receive a 1 per cent rise in October and a further 1 per cent in October 2022.

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However, Government departments have said that one of the conditions of the pay deal is that progress be made on agreed action plans on reforms.

The prison proposals say that details of the proposed new arrangements for meal times would be “evaluated through a joint examination of the changes through a pilot scheme at two prison locations”.

Recruit

The proposed work practice reforms also state that the Irish Prison Service will “commence and develop a graduate stream of recruitment over the lifetime of the agreement and will commence direct recruitment of graduates”.

“Such personnel recruited will be in receipt of certain exemptions to modules of the higher certificate in custodial care and will be trained as, and equivalent to, recruit prison officers. This will result in those recruits reaching prison officer grade after year one.”

The document said this would be subject to sanction of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It also said the Irish Prison Service will move to direct recruitment of certain grades represented by the Prison Officers' Association, including trades officers, and work training officers in certain work streams to be identified through a joint task review of the work training area of prisons.

“Any such direct recruits will be trained as and be equivalent to recruit prison officers,” it said.

The proposals also call for the introduction of a healthcare assistant grade to the Irish Prison Service as direct employees.

They also seek the continued use of and co-operation with “technological solutions in the delivery of services in the following areas: virtual family visits, courts video links and human resource services”.

“The parties agree to explore opportunities for technological solutions in the delivery of services, including education and chaplaincy,” the document said.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent