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Claims of private prison success a "political sleight of hand", says IPRT

1st July 2005

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has strongly challenged the recommedation that the Government begin privatising prisons, stating that there is no evidence to support privatisation as a solution to prison problems.

Earlier today, Justice Minister Michael McDowell released the Third Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons, which again criticised poor conditions within the prison system.  One remedy suggested in the report was the privatisation of a prison on a "trial basis", and the eventual opening up of the prison service to private industry.

"The Prison Inspector is right to be appalled by the conditions in Irish prisons and the outrageous cost of incarceration," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines.  "However, this understandable response to deplorable conditions should not be used as a justification for the implementation of failed prison privatisation policies."

While private prisons are promoted by their supporters as means to encourage efficiency and reduce costs, the IPRT says that the evidence from over 20 years in the US, the UK, Australia and elsewhere shows just the opposite.

"Private prisons in the United States experience 50% more prisoner on staff assaults and 2/3 more prisoner on prisoner assaults than public prisons. In Australia, the Government invoked emergency powers in 2000 to take control of the privatised Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre after 4 years of persistent problems.  Between 1998 and 2000 private prisons in the UK were fined £2.7 million for contract failures.  These are but a handful of many examples of the so-called 'efficiencies' delivered by private prisons."

The IPRT also rubbished claims that private prisons save money.

"The Inspector's report repeats the uncorroborated claim of cost savings through prison privatisation.  However the fact remains that after 20 years or more there is still no conclusive evidence that privatised prisons are less costly than public prisons.  This has been the conclusion of the General Accounting Office and the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the US, and the National Audit Office in the UK.  I'm told that in the US, the claim of cost savings is so discredited that even the private prison companies themselves have stopped making it," said Mr. Lines

The IPRT noted that while private prisons in the UK are more modern than most public prisons, this is due to the fact that the British Government has not approved the building of a new prison in the past decade that was not privatised.

"The fact that these prisons are modern is not because they are privatised, but because government policy has allowed only the private sector to build new prisons. To conclude that private prisons in the UK boast modern conditions simply because they are privatised is to fall victim to a political sleight of hand," said Mr. Lines.

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