Irish Prison Service
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An expanded series of modern safety cells has been built in major jails to hold mentally-ill and troublesome prisoners. The construction programme, which will be completed before March next, will cost over €4m. It will result in 33 safety and close observation cells being installed in ten jails. Already, 20 of the cells have been built.
The expansion of the scheme was announced yesterday by Justice Minister Michael McDowell during a visit to Cloverhill jail in west Dublin to inspect the new cells in operation there.
Since his first visit to Mountjoy jail, shortly after being appointed, the minister has prioritised the replacement of the old padded cells. He said yesterday: “I was shocked at the conditions in which people were being detained and expressed my determination to eliminate them.
“When I first saw a prisoner in one of the old cells in Mountjoy, he was lying on the floor in his underpants in dark conditions.”
He said safety cells were, unfortunately, a necessary part of the prison system to stop people hurting themselves but the emphasis now was on creating an atmosphere that helped them. A pilot project began in Cloverhill in August last year and an initial analysis showed that prisoners were held in the new cells on average for 1.7 days.
“These new facilities are humane, hygienic and meet with international best practice,” he added.
The new layout is aimed at helping to distract prisoners and avoids boredom and banging on doors. The occupants can watch what is happening outside while staff can use the glass doors for regular face to face contact with the prisoners.
The minister described one of the old cells in Mountjoy as equivalent to “an oversized telephone kiosk”. Each close observation cells cost around €110,000 while safety observation cells are built for an average of €130,000 each.
The minister also said he was concerned about the high number of people with mental illnesses who were being sent to prison rather than psychiatric hospitals.
Mr McDowell said he was in consultation with Tanaiste and Health Minister Mary Harney about replacing outdated legal provisions with new legislation. Six of the new cells are provided in Cloverhill, four in the Midlands jail in Portlaoise, four in Wheatfield, three in Limerick, two in Cork, and two in Castlerea and one in Arbour Hill.
Eleven other cells are being installed on a temporary basis for the next three years, pending the completion of the new jails campus in Thornton in north county Dublin and consequent developments.
Source – Irish Independent
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