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New report challenges Prison Inspector's call for private prisons

24th August 2005

A new report severely criticises last month's recommendation by the Prison Inspector to introduce private prisons in Ireland, describing it as being "based upon conjecture and inaccuracy".

Inspecting Private Prisons Iprt Report August 2005 was released today by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) in response to the Third Annual Report of the Inspector of Prisons which called for the privatisation of one prison on a "trial basis" and the eventual opening up of the prison service to private competition.

The report also calls upon Justice Minister Michael McDowell to "make a firm and unequivocal commitment" against privatising prisons in Ireland. Despite two years of denials about having any pro-privatisation intentions, the Minister has announced that he is now considering privatising the new super prisons planned for Dublin and Cork. 

Citing the most recent research from both Government and independent sources in the UK, US, Australia and elsewhere, the IPRT report shows the international evidence of prison privatisation does not support the Inspector's recommendations or Minister McDowell's plans.  The IPRT report catalogues a series of false or unsubstantiated claims about the experience of private prisons made in the Inspector's Annual Report.

The new IPRT report concludes:

1. The Prison Inspector has no mandate to comment on the issue of prison privatisation. In making recommendations in favour of privatisation, the Inspector significantly over-steps the Terms of Reference of his office.

2. Even if the Inspector did possess an appropriate mandate to comment, his recommendations in favour of private prisons are not supported by the evidence.

3. There is no independent academic comparative research showing that private companies deliver prison services at less cost than the public service, and this claim is contested by Government and independent reports from numerous countries. Therefore the Prison Inspector's claims of cost savings through privatisation are unsubstantiated.

4. The operational evidence of private prisons is at best mixed. Therefore the Prison Inspector's claims of increased efficiency and innovation via privatisation are not proved.

5. There is no evidence of reduced recidivism from private prisons.

6. The Inspector's recommendation in support of private prisons is based almost exclusively on information provided by the private prisons industry itself, or by UK business lobbyists supporting the privatisation of custodial services.

7. There is a fundamental contradiction between the Inspector's call for private prisons and his more significant finding that "for most prisoners prison does not work". If prison does not work as an effective response to offending, privatising prisons entrenches the problem rather than offering a sensible solution.

"The only rationale ever produced by Minister McDowell in support of privatisation was the issue of excessive prison officer overtime.  This rationale was eliminated with last week's resolution of the dispute with the POA," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines.  "This new report shows clearly that the Prison Inspector's pro-privatisation recommendations are deeply flawed, and provide no new basis for the Minister to pursue failed privatisation schemes in Ireland."

"We are calling upon the Minister to end his two years of ambiguity and evasiveness on this issue and make a clear an unequivocal commitment against privatising Irish prisons, in particular the new super prisons planned for Dublin and Cork.  If he is unwilling to make such a statement, then it will be clear to all that privatisation is moving ahead behind closed doors, whatever public claims to the contrary emerge from the Department of Justice."

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