13 June 2014

Address by Minister Fitzgerald on the 25th anniversary of Wheatfield Prison opening

12 June 2014 - Director General, Governors, Staff, Distinguished Guests.

I am delighted to be here today to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of Wheatfield Place of detention. In 1979 the then Minister for Justice Gerry Collins, who I see is here today, first announced the intention to locate a place of detention here in Wheatfield. Work commenced in September 1980 and the building was officially opened during an inaugural ceremony on 8th June, 1989.

From the early planning stages it was envisaged that a range of purposeful activities would be available to everyone in custody there.  The two main components were Education and Work-Training.  It was envisaged that these two components would be complimentary to each other, with as many offenders as possible taking part in both.

The guiding principles in providing activities were identified as :-

·        To compensate where possible for the Education/Training and Social opportunities that had been missed.

·        To enrich the life experiences and roles of those in custody so that self esteem and responsibility can grow.

·        To facilitate those who are striving to develop themselves and preparing for law abiding lives after release.

To emphasise this ethos of education, it is planned that 80% - 90% of the population will be employed in activities by the end of this year. Indeed work is well underway for the New Work and Training building and it is hoped that this building will be opening in September thus adding to the educational opportunities for inmates here in the prison.

Wheatfield has seen many changes over the last 25 years, when it first opened there was a staffing compliment of just 35, here today this number has now grown to 381. Originally Wheatfield opened as a place of detention, later it became a committal prison and more recently has reverted to its original status as a place of detention. It now also forms part of the West Dublin Campus with Cloverhill.

Perhaps the biggest change over the last 25 years was the transfer of the Juveniles from St Patrick's  Institution. In February this year the last of the 18-20 year old prisoners transferred from St Patrick’s Institution to Wheatfield Place of Detention. They had been preceded, in December 2013, by the sentenced 17 year olds, bringing to an end, decades of history during which St Patrick’s Institution served as the State’s primary juvenile detention facility.

The staff in Wheatfield have played a significant part in all of this by embracing the change, volunteering to work with the children and young offenders, partaking in the training provided and by providing a fresh positive approach in their day to day dealings with these children and young offenders. I would like to take this opportunity to thank staff for the commitment and willingness to change during this development.

In addition to embracing the changes of the past 25 years Wheatfield Place of Detention can also be proud of its role in introducing new programmes into the Irish Prison system, In 2010 the first Incentivised Regime Programme was piloted here which is now the national model, Wheatfield pioneered the Building Better Lives Programme for Sex Offenders, and has established a Building Better Lives Programme for Violent Offenders.

The Community Based Health and First Aid in Prisons Programme was piloted in Wheatfield in 2009/10. The first prison setting in the world to do this and over the last four years the programme has extended to all fourteen prisons in Ireland. It is a partnership programme operated by the Irish Red Cross, the Irish Prison Service and the Education Training Board.  Wheatfield can be justly proud of the impact of the Community Based Health and First Aid in Prisons programme, which has received much international acclaim. So much so that 16 countries are currently visiting Ireland (between June 10th and June 12th 2014) with a view to replicating the programme in prisons in their own countries. This remarkable programme is one to be rightly proud of and I commend all the staff here in Wheatfield who have pioneered this project.

It is great to see so many of the original staff still with us here today. But I would also like us to pause, just for a moment, as we remember the staff that could not be with us. I know a number of staff have passed away since Wheatfield opened and I would like to thank the members of their families who have joined us here today. Moments ago I cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the memorial garden to our former colleagues which as you have seen is a beautiful work of art and a fitting tribute to all.

The Memorial Garden was an idea that came from the staff of Wheatfield and they have been working on this for a long time. I would like to praise all involved in the creation of the garden and its centre piece, the remarkable stone carving.

I would like to conclude by thanking you for your kind invitation to join you here today and I would also like to thank you for your years of dedication to the Irish Prison Service. We play a vital role in the criminal justice system and you should be proud of the excellent work which is done here every day.

Thank you