Commenting on today's publication of the 2005 Annual Report of the Irish Prison Service, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) stated that the Report provides further evidence that the Government's superprison plans are both unnecessary and unjustifiable. The group is calling upon the Government to abandon superprisons in favour of more cost effective non-custodial supervision programmes to deal with the non-violent, short term offenders that compromise the overwhelming majority of prison committals.
According to the IPRT, today's report demonstrates both the high cost of prisons, and the inappropriate use of incarceration for non-violent and petty offences. Data provided in the Prison Service's Annual Report shows:
- The annual cost of keeping a prisoner in custody is €90,900, nearly a 10% increase over last year's average of €83,800.
- 85% of all commitals in 2005 were for non-violent offences.
- 90% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for non-violent offences.
- 78% of all committals under sentence in 2005 were for 12 months or less.
- 89% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for sentences of 12 months or less.
- 39% of all committals under sentence in 2005 were for 3 months or less.
- 55% of women committed to prison in 2005 were for sentences of 3 months or less.
"Incarceration is the most expensive respose available to offending," said Rick Lines, Executive Director of the IPRT. "While Minister McDowell often points to his success at addressing the issue of prison officer overtime, it is clear from today's figures that this has done nothing to halt the spiraling costs of prisons. Given this tremendous cost, and the poor record of Irish prisons at reducing reoffending, there is a clear basis for the Government to divert significant numbers of non-violent offenders sentenced to one year or less away from prisons as a first option."
The Penal Reform Trust has also rubbished attempts by the Prison Service to spin the Annual Report's findings into an excuse to justify the building of the Mountjoy superprison in north Co. Dublin. Today's press statement from the Prison Service claims that the new Mountjoy complex would reduce the annual cost per prisoner by €20,000 through the "economies of scale which can be achieved by locating 30% of Ireland's prison population on a single site."
"Given that the existing Mountjoy complex already houses 30% of the total prison population, one wonders what 'economies of scale' the Prison Service is referring to," said Mr. Lines. "Moreover, it is only within the unscrutinised spending regimes found in the Department of Justice that €70,000 per year to incarcerate someone would be seen as a bargain. Indeed, the construction of the two proposed superprisons will increase the overall prisoner population by 800-1,000 persons, which means total spending on prisons will go up even if these claimed savings are realised."
"The Prison Service Report illustrates that the Government's rush to build superprisons is driven by politics rather than need, and is an utterly avoidable example of throwing good money after bad," he said.