Letter from the Secretary, Department of Justice to the Clerk to the Committee
Further to my letter of 20 February, I now enclose material in relation to the various questions in so far as they concern this Department.
25 February, 1985.
Enclosed is a photostat copy of a reply to two Parliamentary Questions (nos. 381 and 382) on 18 October, 1984, which gives the available figures (with some details) and other general information relating to Wheatfield.
Capacity of Mountjoy and Portlaoise (Wheatfield is included in reply to Q.1):
Tenders have not been invited in respect of the proposed prison in Wheatfield and it is not open to this Department to give what would amount to a forecast. The estimated costs and size of the place of detention are given in the reply to Question 1. It is considered that a 50-50 apportionment of the costs relating to the entire site would be defensible.
Tenders have not yet been obtained in respect of much of this work.
If Question 5 were to be read without regard to anything that arose in the course of the interviews that have already taken place, the answer to it would be : “Yes: enclosed is an analysis done a few years ago on behalf of the Department of Justice by the Analysis Section of the Departent of Finance”. However, it appears from some remarks made by members that the question may be intended to relate to the first plans rather than to the “final” ones - and may be intended to reflect a suggestion that at that earlier stage there had been an inadequate analysis of available data.
While, for reaons already explained, officers of this Department could not comment directly on any such suggestion, since it would be a questioning of the justification for decisions that were taken in the past and that are not the basis for ongoing expenditure, a brief account of the general background may be relevant as perhaps showing that there must be a misunderstanding of what was at issue. The account in the following paragraphs is given on the basis that it is believed to be non-contentious.
Since the late Sixties, various premises have been acquired and, after varying degrees of modification, sometimes amounting to virtually complete internal reconstruction, have been put into use as prisons or places of detention of one kind or another. Major work has also been done in, for instance, Mountjoy but much more remains to be done and work there is still proceeding as quickly as is practicable, given the major constraints imposed by the fact that the prison is in use. Over most of that period, although some pressure on space was building up as far as juveniles were concerned, the position in general was that there already was enough accommodation and the objective was to secure accommodation that was better in quality or otherwise different (e.g. open or semi-open institutions). Location was also a factor - which accounts in part for developments in Cork. The provision of those new institutions to meet those various needs automatically solved any problem relating to numbers (e.g. total number of juveniles in detention vis-a-vis total number of “spaces”) that might otherwise have arisen.
Linked to, but separate from, the objective of finding premises for a variety of types of institutions was a policy of providing small institutions (ideally about 120 and if possible not much more than about 150) rather than much larger ones. (This relates to “new” institutions - it is not implied that there was an intention to reduce the capacity of Mountjoy to that size). One consequence of the development of that policy would be that if, at a given time, it were to become apparent that a significant increase in demand in a particular “sector” would have to be catered for, the response would be directed towards the provision of an extra (small) institution rather than an expansion of one already provided or being provided - that is, of course, if the latter was already at or near the upper limit indicated.
Accordingly, when the developments that have led to the present ongoing expenditure began, in the late Seventies, the objectives were -
(a)to provide institutions of a quality and/or kind appropriate to meet some particular need (e.g. to cater for the needs of women prisoners or of juveniles) and
(b)to do so as far as reasonably practicable through the development of small rather than large institutions.
It was also recognised, however, from certain trends that were emerging and especially in view of the known experiences of other countries, that in the foreseeable future the specific institutions then envisaged might not provide enough “spaces” for total demand and that it might be necessary to begin to think about an additional institution. Accordingly, work in that regard was done internally in the Department and through discussion with the Analysis section of the Department of Finance and it was then decided - in 1981 - to request the Department of Finance to arrange for its Analysis section to carry out a formal study. The resulting Report, presented in October 1982 and entitled “Projected Demand for Custodial Accommodation”, is enclosed. That Report is still regarded as valid in the sense that, given the assumptions underlying it, its estimates are accepted as not being excessive and accordingly provide the present statistical “base” for ongoing expenditure.
(Its estimates might now - in the light of general trends in the last few years - have to be regarded as possibly “conservative” in some respects but that would not invalidate what is proposed in the present “programme”)
The material in that Report did not of itself mean that the programme as it then was would have to be changed - it was in fact substantially in line with what had been thought within the Department, apart from such changes as were attributable to the availability of later data. Its thrust is to suggest that additional accommodation would be needed but that possibility had already been recognised. However, as a separate development, there came not only a slowing-down in the supply of funds for prison capital work but strong indications that there was little prospect that funding could be substantially increased again for some years at any rate. It was in that situation that a review of the use of the Wheatfield site was undertaken and a new approach adopted which departs from the previous policy of restricting the size of new institutions to something of the order of 150.
As stated in more detail in an earlier letter, the position in Cork was different in that it was originally designed to “maximum capacity” of the site If it had been possible at the time the original design would have provided for accommodation of the order of 150. New developments made it possible at a later stage to increase its capacity without significant loss in other respects. By that time, the earlier general “upper limit” of about 150 had been abandoned, so the new design provides for 180.
The position in relation to Portlaoise was different again in that the issue was total cost.
The following table shows the figures for “annual intake” and “daily average”. In recent years the “daily average” figures are significantly influenced by the fact that shortage of space made it necessary to “shed” prisoners because room for them was not available. If the figures were “corrected” for that factor, they would be likely to be of the order of 200 to 250 higher in each of the last five or six years.
We are not sure how this Question is meant to be interpreted. As we understand the position, money must be regarded as committed to the extent that there is a contract but not otherwise. The extent to which there are contracts will be clear from other replies - briefly, there is no contract relating to building except in relation to the place of detention in Wheatfield.
Question 9: Did the Department of Justice data relating to the projects coincide with Department of Finance in all respects?
If what is meant is whether there is some discrepency between the data they had and ours, the answer is that there is none to our knowledge and we have heard of no such suggestion. Of course the Department of Finance would not have - or need - as much detail as this Department.
Question 10: Give account of all steps taken from initial design to acquisition of site(s)?
This is one of the questions that do not coincide with the recollection of the two officers here who attended the meetings and its point is not understood. Where prisons are concerned, the design cannot be divorced from the site. In theory it might, if a choice of wide open spaces were available; but in practice the site must come first and the design afterwards since not only the site but its surroundings are liable to affect very substantially what the design will be.
Question 11: How were costs monitored by the Department or O.P.W?
This is primarily looked after by O.P.W. and we have been informed that the matter has been covered by a reply sent to you from that office in the meantime.
Question 12: Why were designs drawn up when it was clear that adequate funds would not be available?
This has meanwhile been answered in a letter : to repeat briefly, the Question is based on a misunderstanding as to the facts.
Question 13: What is state of play of other three centres apart from Wheatfield?
Further progress towards building at Cork and Portlaoise would depend on availability of funds.