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McDowell's own "Bertie-Bowl"

3rd August 2004

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today criticised Minister Michael McDowell's plans for massive prison expansion, likening the two new "super-prisons" slated for construction in Dublin and Cork to the controversial "Bertie-Bowl" stadium criticised by the PDs during the general election campaign.

Commenting on reports that Minister McDowell is continuing to push ahead plans to increase Ireland's prison spaces by 25%, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines said, "It is surely disturbing to watch the Minister run full steam ahead with this ill-conceived and massive building plan when he has yet to explain why Ireland needs 1,000 or more new prison places. Given the PDs criticism of the proposed Campus Stadium Ireland as an unnecessary and wasteful ego-driven project, it is indeed interesting to watch this Minister move ahead with such a dubious mega-project of his own."

While last week's crime statistics showed again that Ireland has one of the lowest crimes rates in Western Europe, McDowell's massive prison expansion plans would make Ireland one of the region's top jailers. Ireland's current rate of incarceration of 85 persons per 100,000 population (a rate consistent with last year's EU average of 88 per 100,000) would jump to 115 per 100,000, moving Ireland from 10th to 4th place in race for the unenviable distinction of Western Europe's top jailer. At an average cost of €85,000 annually to incarcerate someone in an Irish prison, McDowell's proposal would bloat prison budgets by tens of millions of Euro each year, said the IPRT.

"That such a massive and expensive increase in imprisonment can be contemplated when Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Western Europe illustrates the Government's backwards approach to this important issue," said Mr. Lines. "The public is crying out for more hospital beds, yet the Government instead wants to divert scarce resources into the folly of new prison beds. The Government clearly has an interesting perspective on the notion of value for money."

The human rights organisation also rubbished any attempt to justify these plans as part of an effort to improve prison conditions. "We will also not accept the Minister's attempt to disguise his choice to expand prisons behind his obligation to improve prison conditions. This is a false and frankly distasteful attempt to dress up reactionary prison policy in humanitarian clothing. Conditions in many Irish prisons are indeed unacceptable, and antiquated institutions must be closed. Improving prison conditions is completely separate and unrelated to the Minister's drive to lock-up more people in Ireland."
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