IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Examiner: Reason squeezed out in debate on overcrowding

15th May 2010

Having worked out the sums and realised that "one in every five prisoners shouldn’t be there"(as one in five prisoners is on a bunk or mattress on the floor, "encroaching on someone else’s already very limited physical and psychological space.") she arrives at the conclusion:

And if half the official occupancy of the prison are on edge, what’s that likely to do to the other half?

She then goes on to state that society shouldn't turn the other way, acting on the false premise that this group deserves the least sympathy, but instead examine the impact this has on society:

"From a purely economic point of view, the day-to-day costs of running the country’s prisons will be more than €320 million this year, so it makes sense to look for value for money. If the way to measure value for money is that a prisoner doesn’t commit further crime and return to prison, then value is badly lacking as recidivism rates are high."

She also looks at the moral argument, stating what international human rights standards (and IPRT) insist: it is the loss of liberty that is the punishment, and prison conditions should not be used for further punishment. She details the slopping out, limited showers, cockroach and rat infestations, and other aspects of conditions at Mountjoy.

Further: she looks at "another myth" and dispels the notion that everyone in prison is a hardened criminal. The prison population includes high numbers of drug addicts, mentally ill, asylum seekers awaiting deportation, loan defaulters or even fine defaulters.

She finishes with the penal moderation line of thought:

"But is the answer always more spaces? Penal reform campaigners argue prisoner numbers will always rise to meet the space available as prison is a politically easier option than community sanctions or rehabilitation programmes."