LETTER TO CLERK TO THE COMMITTEE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Further to the meeting of the Committee on 11th September and your letter of 19th September, the following information is forwarded in response to points raised by the Committee.
1.Having regard to the nature of some of the questions asked at the meeting on 11 September, the following points are given by way of an introduction to the factual account below:
(a)There was no question of firm decisions not being taken about the custodial accommodation concerned. Firm decisions were taken in 1978 to provide by 1985/6 (i) a place of detention and (ii) a prison in Wheatfield, (iii) a place of detention in Cork and (iv) a high security prison in Portlaoise.
(b)None of the various original designs was unsatisfactory in any way. The original designs were for small prisons because small prisons are considered to have advantages over larger ones in terms of the conditions that are possible for inmates.
(c)Firm estimation of ultimate costs is difficult in the case of prison building (particularly high security buildings) until a considerable amount of design work is completed.
(d)Financial constraints slowed up the building programme. Simultaneously the number of offenders to be catered for increased rapidly. Modifications in design which will provide more accommodation in due course and cut unit costs were decided on.
(e)A decision not to provide further finance for a project in a particular year necessarily involves the “freezing” of the work but, of course, fees due on it have to be paid.
(f)None of the projects in the programme has been abandoned : work will continue on them as funds permit. Priority is being given to the Wheatfield projects, one of which is at the actual building stage.
2.The sanction of the Department of Finance (D/F sanction) was obtained in February 1979 to provide (i) a place of detention for male juveniles and (ii) a prison for women at Wheatfield, Co. Dublin, (iii) a place of detention for male juveniles at Rathmore Road, Cork and (iv) a high security prison at Portlaoise.
3.Provision of custodial accommodation is undertaken by the Office of Public Works (OPW) on behalf of the Department of Justice (D/J) but the cost is borne on the Prisons Vote. Briefing on the operational requirements of the accommodation is given by the Department of Justice. The technical briefing and the placing and monitoring of contracts (with consultants and contractors) are by OPW, who consult D/J as they consider necessary.
4.Design teams were commissioned by OPW for each of the four projects. Each team is composed of an architect, an engineer (structural), an engineer (mechanical/electrical) and a quantity surveyor - each discipline may, of course, have several professionals involved in the work. With one exception, the teams are composed of consultants in the private sector. The exception is that the architectural work for Portlaoise is being done by OPW themselves.
5.It is understood from OPW that professional fees are payable to the private-sector consultants, on a contractual basis, in accordance with the scales of fees that are approved by the respective professional institutes. The payments are percentages of the cost of the completed undertaking and payments are made in stages. Between two thirds and three quarters of the total amount payable in fees is due when the stage is reached at which it is possible to place a contract for construction. Fees and VAT on fees amount to between one eighth and one sixth of the total cost. Approximately one half of the total is payable to the architect and the remaining half is divided, more or less equally, between the structural engineer, the mechanical/electrical engineer and the quantity surveyor.
6.In 1979, when design commenced, the average number of persons in custody was about 1,150 - more than 300 juveniles, less than 800 adults and far less than 50 women. Something like 100 juveniles were in prisons for adults. By 1982, the average had increased to about 1,250 - just less than 400 juveniles, more than 800 adults and almost 50 women at times. Insufficiency of accommodation, however, had resulted in more premature releases and but for this there would be a daily average of about 1,450 in custody. Projections in 1981 indicated that, by the end of the century, custodial accommodation could be required for well over 2,000. At present, - despite premature releases in excess of 1,000 annually - the daily average in custody is already about 1,650. Multiple occupation of cells intended for single occupation is no longer avoidable, facilities are strained and worsened conditions have contributed to prison unrest. In 1979, the new custodial accommodation being designed, even when added to already available accommodation (when modernised) would afford just about 1,650 places. It had been appreciated from the outset of planning that, if numbers being committed to custody continued to rise, additional accommodation would have to be provided. Scope for future expansion had, in fact, been allowed for in the lay-out of both Wheatfield projects.
7.When D/F sanction was received and professional teams were commissioned by OPW, the design work on all four projects was undertaken. The target was to commence siteworks and perimetering etc. at Wheatfield in 1980, to commence the custodial buildings on the two Wheatfield sites and in Cork and Portlaoise in 1981/82 and to have all four completed in 1985/6. Siteworks and perimetering etc. commenced in Wheatfield in 1980. During 1981 developed sketch-plans were agreed for all four projects. Working drawings were brought almost to completion for the two Wheatfield projects and for Cork. The Portlaoise project was brought to the stage at which tenders could be sought. D/F sanction to invite tenders for Portlaoise was received in September 1981. It was envisaged that tender stage for the two Wheatfield projects and for Cork would be reached before mid 1982.
8.Following discussions at all appropriate levels, in the course of which the commitments already made as regards fees were stressed, £11.5m was allocated for 1982 for all prison capital projects. £7.6m of this was contracted to major work already in progress at existing custodial accommodation in Mountjoy, Portlaoise, Cork, Arbour Hill, and Loughan House. £3.9m was available for new accommodation. This sufficed for continuing with site-works, perimetering and services buildings in Wheatfield. Apart from payment of fees incurred up to then, design work on the custodial buildings in Wheatfield and Cork was discontinued and invitation of tenders for Portlaoise was deferred.
9.Later an extra £4m was allocated to the Prisons Capital subhead for 1982 and nearly half was applied to continuing the design work on the two Wheatfield and the Cork and Portlaoise projects.
10However, financial stringency and indications that this would persist for some years had now diminished the prospect that the new accommodation would materialise as rapidly as it had been expected earlier. It became clear, because the prospect of having the accommodation originally planned completed within the original time scale was no longer realistic and because the need for even more accommodation was becoming more apparent, that the enforced delay could be turned to some advantage by using it to secure modifications where possible in order to increase the accommodation while reducing unit costs. This did not, of course, imply that the projects, as originally briefed and designed, were inadequate or badly planned. It was, in fact, realised throughout that increasing the accommodation of the individual institutions involved a sacrifice of the internationally recognised advantages of having small prisons.
11.£11.5m was allocated in 1983. Apart from enabling work already in progress and nearing completion at various places of custody to be financed, this allocation enabled the Wheatfield projects to be brought closer to tender stage. The Cork and Portlaoise projects were deferred.
12.£11.5m was again allocated in 1984. Apart from commitments to work in progress in other places, this enabled construction of the place of detention in Wheatfield to commence and the prison to be advanced to tender stage.
13.The design for the place of detention for male juveniles at Wheatfield was modified to provide 320 rather than 150 places, essentially by using ground space (left in the original design for possible future development) to provide 10 rather than 5 cell units. Construction commenced in September 1984 for completion in 1987.
14.The design for the prison for women at Wheatfield was modified to provide 144 rather than 60 places, mainly by adding a second level to the cell units.
15.The design for the Place of Detention for male juveniles at Rathmore Road, Cork, was modified to provide 180 rather than 126 places. The modified design incorporated very new techniques in prison construction which enabled more cells to be provided than had originally been thought possible.
16.When an estimated cost became available in 1981 for a Security Prison for 120 in Portlaoise, it was considered that it was more than could be afforded. A lower estimated cost was achieved, by spatial and structural reductions, but at the expense of incurring some additional fees to effect the modifications. D/F sanction to invite tenders was obtained in September 1981 but, as already indicated, financial constraints have not allowed the project to proceed further up to now.
17.The position about fees is as follows:-
The accommodation to be provided by all four projects is required to meet even present custodial requirements. Deferrment of construction, because of current financial stringencies, does not imply that the expenditure incurred on design work has been nugatory. The fact that preparatory planning is so far advanced will permit construction work to commence with relatively little further delay, when resources permit.
19.Although it is difficult to work out precise comparions, because many costings included are estimations, the effect of the design modifications is to reduce the cost per place for the Place of Detention in Wheatfield by about 6% and reductions in cost per place for the Prison at Wheatfield and the Cork and Portlaoise projects are estimated to be at least about 25%.
* Further credits to be considered by the consultants when the project is resumed.