27. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the protocols in place for parents, mainly fathers, in prison who have access to their children when they wish to speak with them or arrange prison visits while the parent is in prison; if he is satisfied with the arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21051/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I wish to advise the Deputy that in accordance with the Prison Rules, all prisoners are entitled to receive by prior appointment not less than one visit from relatives or friends each week of not less than 30 minutes duration. All prisoners in custody have a visitor panel and phone contact panel. It is up to each prisoner to identify the persons that they place on each panel. At this moment in time, only adult visitors (persons over 18) are logged and recorded by name and date of birth on the prison visitor system.
In 2018, 239,769 visitors entered the prison estate with 50,592 categorised as children. For the first four months of 2019 the number of visitors to prisons was 78,423 of which 16,207 were recorded as children.
The number of standard visits a prisoner may receive is directly linked to the regime level they have achieved under the terms of the Irish Prison Service Incentivised Regimes Policy.
The Irish Prison Service Incentivised Regimes Policy provides for a differentiation of privileges between prisoners according to their level of engagement with services and quality of behaviour. The main privileges offered include additional visits, additional phone calls and an increased daily gratuity depending on the regime level achieved. The objective is to provide tangible incentives to prisoners to participate in constructive activities and to encourage good behaviour, leading to a safer and more secure environment. The list of additional privileges varies between prisons and within different areas of a prison, depending on the operational and infrastructure requirements of each prison.
A prisoner on basic regime level may receive 1 half-hour visit per week. A prisoner on standard regime level may receive 2 half-hour visits per week or combine both visits to have 1 hour long visit where the prison arrangements can accommodate this request. A prisoner on enhanced regime level may receive 4 half-hour visits per week or combine the visits to have 2 hour-long visits where the prison arrangements can accommodate this request. All prisoners have the opportunity to become eligible for enhanced regime status provided they have met the required criteria for the preceding two months. A number of factors are taken into consideration and each prisoner’s eligibility is examined on a case by case basis.
The Irish Prison Service is committed to supporting the family relationships of imprisoned parents, through the medium of the Governor-led Families and Imprisonment Group. This group is currently exploring best practice in community support and resettlement for families with an imprisoned parent, in conjunction with Tusla and others.
Facilities for open family visits are available in all prisons, and are allocated at the discretion of the Governor, having regard to the incentivised regimes privilege level and individual prisoner circumstances. For example, a prisoner on basic or standard regime level who has suffered a bereavement might be offered an open family visit, where possible within the safety and security parameters of the particular prison.
The Irish Prison Service also provide 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.