New Cork Prison in Ireland Improves on Predecessor

CORK, Ireland — A new jail nearing completion in Cork will be a distinct departure from the one it is replacing. Designed to accommodate family visitation and provide a healthier, more comfortable environment for inmates and staff, the new Cork Prison will offer improved sanitation, more modern facilities and opportunities for inmates to improve their both physical and mental well being.

Construction began on the €35 million, 275-bed prison — which could accommodate up to 310 inmates if necessary — in January 2014. The facility is divided between two-person and single-bed cells that are larger than those in the existing facility, as well as improved toilet and shower facilities. PJ Hegarty and Sons of Cork is managing construction of the new prison, which represents the largest single infrastructure investment in the history of the Irish Prison Service.

Perhaps the new medium-security prison’s most distinctive features will be it’s family visitation spaces. The facility’s roof will include a secure but welcoming garden and children’s play area, and interior visitor spaces will be larger and more inviting. In contrast to the older facility, which featured muted gray tones and cramped spaces, the new facility will introduce plenty of natural light and many areas will be both wider and more vaulted. Toilets, sinks and showers in each cell will reduce the need for shared facilities. Visitor waiting spaces will also be brighter and more comfortable, offering a canteen and play area for children.

The prison’s expansive new kitchen will improve meal service while also offering space for inmate skills training. Classes will also be offered in manufacturing, pottery and other hands-on skills. Exercise and recreation facilities will include a multi-use recreation hall and a gymnasium. Prison staff will have their own dedicated work out area.

While the new three-level, 17,000-square-meter facility is indeed more comfortable, with larger cells and more amenities, it will still feature all the necessary safety and security systems. A high wall composed of pre-manufactured panels surrounds the complex. All visitors and staff will be required to pass through security scanners and all ground floor windows leading to the 40-screen control room — which requires biometric access — will be bulletproof, according to the Irish Examiner. All deliveries and inmate transfers will be conducted in a secured area and incoming inmates will receive a full body scan via a body orifice security scanner that detects contraband before being introduced to the general population. The biometric technology company The Lava Group of Belfast will provide all access control solutions across one platform system.

Overcrowding was a primary reason for the new construction. While the existing Cork Prison was designed for 146 male inmates, capacity at times exceeded 300, forcing three inmates to share cells designed for two.

The bulging population had put a strain on restroom facilities and showers as well as the medical unit and segregation areas. In response, eight segregation cells and two cells designed for inmates with physical disabilities will be included in the new facility. A seven-cell high support unit for inmates diagnosed with mental illnesses — as well as two safety observation cells for those with serious medical issues — was also included in the new design, according to the Irish Examiner.

Speaking with the Irish Examiner, Ciaran Nevin, a project manager with the Irish Prison Service, explained that approximately 150 volunteer test inmates — such as judges, guards and other correctional workers — will stay in the facility for two days prior to the official opening to help prison staff acclimate to the new operations as part of a familiarization period expected to last 8 to 10 weeks.