518. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the commitment made by him at the UNCAT hearing in 2017 that all prisons would have child friendly visiting conditions by July 2018 has been honoured; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25109/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I wish to advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service have confirmed that, in line with the commitments made at the 2017 UNCAT hearing, all prisons now have child friendly visiting conditions.
The Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2016-2018 sets out the commitment of the Irish Prison Service to strengthen family supports to facilitate on-going contact with prisoners while in custody and their reintegration post release, with appropriate supports and programmes.
The Director General of the Irish Prison Service established the Families and Imprisonment Group, which is chaired by a prison Governor and includes representatives from Tusla, The childhood Development Initiative, the Probation Service, the Prison Officers Association and representatives from various prisons. The group was tasked in particular to address the needs of children and families as highlighted in the report published by the Irish Penal Reform Trust entitled ‘Picking up the Pieces: The rights and needs of children and families affected by imprisonment.’
A key element of this is the provision of appropriate child and family friendly visiting facilities.
Prison Visitor Centres, which are partly funded by the Irish Prison Service, play a vital role in humanising the visiting experience of prisoner families through the provision of refreshments, befriending and child play services. There are visitor centres in the West Dublin, Mountjoy and Midlands campus and they are run by the St Vincent de Paul.
The West Dublin Campus visitor centres provides a hospitality/family support service which includes information provision on a wide range of issues. There are childcare areas which provide toys, arts and crafts. A similar provision is made at Mountjoy and the Midlands.
Bedford Row operates a family friendly hospitality Centre at Limerick Prison. This is part funded by the Irish Prison Service and includes the dispensing of refreshments, the giving out of play material to children and also befriending and information provision. Targeted work with prisoners children is also a focus of the work of the Centre.
Cork and Castlerea have smaller visitor centres which are run by local community groups. Castlerea has recently constructed a new visitor area, which includes enhanced family visit spaces.
All prisons have designated areas to facilitate family visits which include a family friendly space, round tables or family seating and access to play materials.
In addition temporary release for access/visits to children for family occasions is regularly approved in most prisons.
The Irish Prison Service targets family friendly training to ‘front of house’ staff, which aims to improve staff awareness of the effects of imprisonment on families and allows staff to appropriately support families and children visiting prisons.
The Irish Prison Service also provide training in Children First to all staff, which ensures that any child protection and welfare concerns are dealt with appropriately. Each prison has a Child Safeguarding Statement, as required under the Children First Act 2015 and one or more Designated Liaison Persons, who are the main point of contact in each prison for child welfare.
All of our prisons facilitate visits on Saturdays to take account of the needs of families visiting persons in custody. Sunday visits are allowed at the two Open Centres and at Cloverhill.
The Families and Imprisonment Group carried out surveys in 2018 at Visitor Centres and also engaged in Family Forums, in order to consult with families and children visiting prisons. The learning from these will be used to further develop family and child friendly visiting facilities in all prisons.