The practice of slopping out dating from Victorian times has finally ended at Cork Prison following the opening over the weekend off of a new €45 million facility and the transfer of 163 prisoners from the old prison.
The Irish Prison Service confirmed the old Cork Prison has closed with outgoing governor Jim Collins, who has served the Irish Prison Service and Cork Prison for over 30 years, locking the facility for the last time.
The director general of the Irish Prison Service, Michael Donnellan welcomed the closure of the old site which he said was inadequate in terms of working conditions for staff and living conditions for prisoners
“The new Cork Prison will provide good working conditions for staff and adequate and suitable accommodation for all prisoners in accordance with our national and international obligations - this new prison ends the practice of slopping out,” he said.
“It provides the infrastructure and regime necessary for the education and rehabilitation of prisoners which in turn will enhance public safety.”
Last month, the new governor of Cork Prison, Pat Dawson hailed the opening of the new prison, which has capacity to house 273 prisoners in cells equipped with toilets and showers, as a major advance on the old prison where prisoners had to slop out their chamber pots every morning.
“The provision of toilets and showers in cells for prisoners has a knock-on effect of improving the environment for everybody so you don’t have the shameful scene of prisoners having to carry chamber pots down to the end of the landing every morning,” said Mr Dawson.
The old Cork Prison was originally built as detention unit by the British army in 1806 as part of its Victoria Barracks. The barracks was taken over by the Irish State in 1922 and in 1973 the Department of Defence transferred the detention unit to the Department of Justice for use as a civilian prison.
The detention barracks underwent considerable refurbishment before opening in 1983 as a civilian prison catering for committal prisoners from Cork, Kerry and Waterford but it suffered from persistent overcrowding with its 150 single cells often having a double occupancy.
An Inspectorate of Prisons report from 2007 noted that Cork Prison accommodated on average between 260-270 prisoners despite being originally designed for 150 inmates and at times, it accommodated over double its intended capacity. As recently as 2012, the prison’s visiting committee described conditions at the Rathmore Road facility as “archaic and Dickensian”.
The new prison, located on a 2.75-hectare site , has a number of specialist cells including two for disabled persons, eight for segregation and seven high support cells for people with, for example, mental health issues.
The new prison, which also includes an outdoor exercise yard as well as separate gyms for both inmates and staff as well as a large recreation hall, is surrounded by a 7.5m high perimeter wall and monitored by 300 CCTV cameras from a central control room.