Written Answers - Prison Committals

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 713 No. 1

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  282.  Deputy Deirdre Clune  Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune   asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform  Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern   the current annual cost of keeping a prisoner in prison; his plans to increase the use of community service orders rather than prison sentences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26294/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  As the Deputy is aware the Courts are independent in the exercise of their functions and they decide on the appropriate sentence following conviction for any particular crime. The Community Service Scheme provides a very useful disposal option for the courts and one I hope will be used more in the future. In fact, the operation of this scheme was the subject of an independent review which I published last October. Broadly speaking the review found that the Scheme had the capacity to be used to a far greater extent.

Based on this, and other recommendations contained in the review, the Probation Service of my Department is leading the drive to substantially increase the number of persons that could potentially be placed on Community Service. The Probation Service has restructured the delivery of Community Service nationally under the governance of a dedicated Community Service Unit and has designed a new model of Community Service. The implementation of the new model is being piloted in the Dublin area. The pilot is intended to trial and refine the efficiency of operation.

At present the most common non-custodial sanction used by the Courts, is the imposition of a fine. The new Fines Act makes provision for the use of non-custodial options for the non-payment of fines such as Community Service. This new legislative provision will provide an extension to the use the Courts can make of the Community Service sanction in less serious offence cases.

I should also add that the most recently published Discussion Document of the White Paper on Crime series, ‘Criminal Sanctions’, includes an examination of the use of non-custodial sanctions generally, such as Community Service. A consultation seminar was held at the end of May and the closing date for written submissions has been extended to the end of July. The opinions received at the consultation seminar and from submissions will inform future plans.

I am confident, having regard to the independence of the Judiciary, that the work of the Probation Service to encourage greater use of the Community Service option by the courts will result in greater numbers being placed on the Scheme. The average cost of providing a prison space in 2009 was *€77,222. This was a decrease on the 2008 cost (€92,717) of *€15,495 or 16.7%. The decrease in the average cost of an available, staffed prison space between 2008 and 2009 is the result of a 5% decrease in total costs, combined with a 14% increase in available spaces.

The decrease in costs is primarily due to a *€15.5 Million reduction in salary costs arising from the Government’s Public Service pay control measures and the effects of retirements and the moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the Public Service. The increase in available spaces is primarily due to the completion and opening of major new accommodation blocks at Castlerea (116 spaces) and Portlaoise (200 spaces) prisons, in addition to a number of other [215]capacity increasing projects across the prison estate. As in previous years, the numbers of available spaces in each institution are based on figures as at 31st December — this may distort the average cost, in an institution where new prison accommodation is commissioned during the year.

Breakdown of the cost in respect of Open, Closed and High Security prisons

Security Regime 2008 2009 % Change
Open *60,150 *50,521 -16%
Closed *90,837 *79,308 -13%
High Security *155,306 *75,892 -51%
Overall average cost per available staffed space *92,717 *77,222 -17%

Question No. 283 answered with Question No. 278.

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