Irish Prison Service to be established on statutory basis

Irish Prison Service to be established on statutory basis

Helen McEntee

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is to be put on a statutory basis under legislative plans approved by ministers.

The Irish Prison Service Bill 2023 will establish the IPS on a statutory footing with defined functions and responsibilities and with oversight and support from an independent non-executive board. Further support will be provided by a dedicated audit committee and by other expert committees as required.

The general scheme of the bill will now be published and the Department of Justice will begin work with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel on drafting the bill.

The IPS is currently a non-statutory executive office of the Department of Justice. At present, the IPS has over 3,500 staff, an annual budget of more than €420 million, and an average of approximately 4,700 prisoners in custody on a given day.

The Department said the new structures will “provide the IPS with expert guidance and oversight in implementing the government’s penal policy reform programme, in managing capital projects and in ensuring the highest standards of governance and accountability in the prison system”.

Justice minister Helen McEntee said: “A safe, secure and progressive prison system is a cornerstone of any well-functioning democracy.

“In Ireland we are fortunate to have a prison service with so many committed staff who work day-in, day-out to provide prisoners with opportunities for rehabilitation and self-development while also ensuring an orderly and disciplined prison environment. Through the provision of educational, training, employment and psychological services, we can reduce the level of re-offending and improve overall community safety.

“The bill will cement the position of the IPS as a State body with defined functions, provide it with best practice governance supports, and set out clear lines of authority and accountability for the management of the prison system. This will include establishing the position of IPS director general as a statutory office with formal authority and accountability to match the responsibilities of the role.

“This bill will help to ensure that the IPS is best positioned to fulfil its mandate and to meet future challenges, including its role in the effective management of prison numbers, resources and penal policy reforms. Ultimately this will help to shape better outcomes for prisoners, staff and communities alike.”

The minister also reiterated plans to prioritise the provision of additional prison spaces.

Mrs McEntee said: “We are working on a plan to deliver 400 extra prison spaces across four different prisons. This will provide space for 620 additional prisoners across the prison estate. These additional spaces will be delivered in Castlrea, Cloverhill, the Midlands and Mountjoy prisons.

“It is important that the size of the prison estate keeps up with population growth, as well as increasing judicial and garda resources.”

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