Special Prison Procedure
The Prisons Act 2007 introduces a special mechanism for the construction of new prisons. The normal planning rules are varied. It provides for special planning provisions.
The Minister must direct that the provisions apply to the prison development covered by the legislation. An approved development is not subject to the Planning Acts, the Building Control Acts or the National Monument Act.
Provision is made for works on the development of an archaeological nature to be carried out. There are provisions for the discovery of national monuments. An Environmental Impact Assessment is required.
The Director-General of the Irish Prison Service is to arrange for preparations of drawing a visual representation of the exterior of the completed development to be prepared.The Minister is to give notice of the proposed development to the local authority and the public through notices and advertising in one daily newspaper and one local newspaper. Where the development is likely to have significant effects on the environment of another State, the appropriate authority of that State must be notified.
There are provisions regarding the contents of the notice. It must contain a brief description of the development, identify its location, and indicate where copies, etc. of documents must be available. It must invite written submissions or observations to be furnished to the rapporteur within six weeks of the day from when publication is made.
If the Minister decides to proceed with the development, he or she shall move a resolution in both Houses of the Oireachtas, which must be confirmed by the act of the Act of the Oireachtas before the development can proceed.
An order by the Minister in relation to proposed developments under the section shall not have effect or the force of law until confirmed by Act of the Oireachtas. Any act done by the power can only be questioned by way of an application for judicial review. The development is exempt from planning legislation.
The Irish Prison Service, before proceeding with a development, shall appoint a person to carry out an EIS. The EIS shall contain a description of the development, physical characteristics, land use, size, design etc. An outline of the main alternatives must be set out. It must describe aspects of the environment likely to be significantly impacted.
Certain notices of the proposed development is required. Notice of the proposal is publicised in newspapers and by other notices. The notice contains brief description of the development and states where plans can be inspected and the time limit in which observations may be made.
A rapporteur must be appointed to prepare a report, which will summarise submissions and observations received from interested persons. The Minister may make amendments to the proposal on foot of the report. If alterations are made, a new environmental impact assessment report may be required together with new plans, proposals and visual representations.
Confirmation & Report
The Minister for Justice may move a resolution of both houses of the Oireachtas confirming the development. This is in place with the normal planning rules applicable to State authorities.
A report is to summarise submissions and observations received from interested bodies. The Minister is to make available to the interested party in written form or electronically a copy of documents in relation to the Environmental Impact Assessment.
If the Minister decides to make amendments to the development on foot of the rapporteur’s report, an amended description of the development and individual representation shall be prepared to gather with a supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment.Notice of alterations must be given and the supplementary report must be submitted to the Minister and published.
The Minister, having regard to the Environmental Impact Assessment and report of the rapporteur and any supplementary assessment, may make further alterations to development and may order the development be permitted to proceed or not proceed.
Closing of Prisons
The 2007 Act made provision for the closure of Mountjoy Prison. This proposal was shelved after the Financial Crisis which commenced in 2008.
The Prisons Act provides generally, for matters relating to the closing of prisons. It provides for the closing of prisons by Ministerial order. Following the closing of a prison, any outstanding warrants that refer to that prison as the place of committal can be executed in another specified prison, and secondly to address the situation of persons on temporary release from a prison which has been closed
The Prisons Act 2015 facilitated the complete closing of St Patrick’s Institution. The Act repealed certain enactments relating to St Patrick’s Institution, in particular the remaining legislative provisions that enable the courts to commit offenders under the age of 21 to detention in St Patrick’s.
The Act contains transitional provisions to deal with warrants for the committal or remand of persons to St Patrick’s Institution which remain unexecuted on the date St Patrick’s is closed. Following the closing of St Patrick’s Institution, any outstanding warrants that refer to St Patrick’s as the place of committal or remand can be executed in a specified prison. In addition, provision is made for persons on temporary release from St Patrick’s Institution on the date of its closing.
Outsourcing of Prisoner Custody Services.
The Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance and approval of the government, enter into a contract with a contractor to provide prisoner escort services. Services include the transfer of prisoners to and from places and prisons, production in court and holding and detention for such purposes.
There is provision for certification of applicants as fit and proper persons to provide the functions of a prisoner custody officer by the Minister. Contractors may only engage a person certified for the purpose of escorting prisoners.
The Minister must be satisfied having made inquiries that the applicant is of good character, is properly trained, has relevant experience and is fit to perform the functions of a prisoner custody officer. A certificate is issued. There is a provision for appeal to the Circuit Court for refusal of a certificate.
Certificates are valid for five years and may be subject to conditions. There are various offences in connection with falsification of the application or the certificate. There are provisions for revocation of a certificate subject to appeals against revocation.
Prison Custody Services
A prisoner custody officer escorting a prisoner has the same powers as a prison officer, including the right to use reasonable force where necessary. There are limitations on powers of search. There is an obligation to prevent escapes, the commission of the offence, maintain order and comply with court orders relating to the prisoner and generally comply with the provision of prison rules.
The prisoner custody officer must comply with the prison rules and give the governor of the prison documentation relating to committal, medication, and prescription for medication relating to a prisoner. He must inform the governor of matters related to the health of the prisoner of which the officer is aware.
There is a provision for the protection of confidential information. The Minister may appoint officers to monitor the performance of contractors and submit reports on an annual basis. The authorised officer has powers of entry into offices or premises, inspection of books and records, etc.