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Poverty of Imagination: Government stumbles blindly towards penal expansion

24th June 2009

Thornton Hall to go ahead despite overwhelming evidence that ‘super-prisons’ do not work.

300 prisoners is the maximum manageable size of a prison, according to incontrovertible international evidence presented at the ‘Re-imagining the Role of Prisons in Irish Society’ Open Forum last week, yet the government – whose officials were in attendance at the IPRT event – has decided to commit even more taxpayers’ money to the ‘super-prison’ at Thornton Hall, planned to house 1,400 to 2,200 prisoners.

Ireland is poised to make an irreversible decision to travel in the direction of further penal expansion mimicking the mistakes of the United States and England and Wales, without looking at the alternative approaches prevalent in many other European countries and which Scotland is now trying to emulate. Ireland is also rejecting the huge volume of evidence which shows that approaches to crime centred on penal moderation and moving away from imprisonment are more successful – in terms of social and economic value –and in creating a safer society.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director, Liam Herrick said:

“There is a very real danger that now we might get the worst of both worlds. IPRT’s main objection to the Thornton Hall plan was the scale of the proposed prison, in terms of what that would mean for increasing imprisonment in Ireland and in terms of how a large prison goes against good practice everywhere else in Europe where it’s now recognised that small local prisons produce the best results. The Prison Service has argued that the scale of the new prison would be compensated for by having high-quality single cells each with sanitation and showers and by the prison being able to provide a new level of regimes and services. If the prison is now going ahead at a similar scale but it is still claimed that significant savings will be made, we can only assume that the savings will come from cell-design or regimes.

“IPRT welcomes the government’s commitment to look at making greater use of alternatives to custody, such as restorative justice and the Community Service Scheme. In the longer term it is measures such as these that will address the problem of overcrowding, but in the short term we need clarification from Government as to its current plans for Thornton Hall. If it is to go ahead, one practical step to reduce the size and cost of the project would be to at least commit to no immigration detention and no juvenile detention at the site and to not transfer the women’s prison at Dóchas from the North Circular Road.”

For all media enquiries, please contact:
Fíona Ní Chinnéide,
Campaigns & Communications Officer
communications@iprt.ie

Read more:

IPRT sets out Objections to Thornton Hall
Opinion piece in Irish Examiner, 27th May 2008.

IPRT Position Paper on Thornton Hall
IPRT Position Paper on Prison Building Policy - Thornton Hall

Re-imagining the Role of Prison in Irish Society
IPRT hosted an Open Forum entitled ‘Re-imagining the Role of Prison in Irish Society’ in Dublin on 18th June 2009. During the event, solid evidence was presented from recent studies in England and Scotland that demonstrates penal moderation is more successful in creating a safer society. A full report will shortly be available here at: www.iprt.ie

Commission on English Prisons TodayFinal report due to be published 2nd July 2009.

Scottish Prisons Commission
Final report published 1st July, 2008.

Learn more