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Irish Independent: Cost of locking up prisoners down by €15,000 per inmate

3rd August 2010

Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor, reports in today's Irish Independent on the falling costs of housing a prisoner in 2009.

"The cost of housing a prisoner has fallen by more than €15,000 per inmate, according to a new report published this week. The average cost of an available prison space last year was €77,222, provisional figures contained in the annual report of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) will claim. This compares to €92,717 in 2008 - a decrease of €15,495 (16.7%)."

According to the article, the IPS attributes the drop to:

  • a reduction in pay costs (total costs savings of €17.7m, of which €15.5m relate to pay costs)
  • an increase in bed capacity from 3,611 at the end of 2008 to 4,106 at the end of 2009

"However, the figures have been hotly contested by prison campaigners. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) insisted the new costs figures should be treated with caution as 2009 was a record year for overcrowding in Irish prisons. Staffing costs were also reduced last year as a result of pay cuts and the hiring freeze in the public sector.

"These figures need to be challenged in a fundamental way," IPRT executive director Liam Herrick told the Irish Independent. "They do not necessarily reflect genuine costs efficiencies in circumstances where the reduced cost of housing a prisoner lies in more prisoners supervised by less staff. That is not a cost reduction and to represent this reduction as progress would border on the ridiculous."

The article quotes Labour Party justice spokesman, Pat Rabbitte, who also identifies public service pay cuts and the jobs moratorium as factors underlying the huge reduction in costs.

"That is making a silk purse out of a sow's ear," Mr Rabbitte said. "Of course, the cost per prisoner is going to come down. It does not take a genius to work out that if you overcrowd prisons with less staff you will get more bang for your buck."

In another article, published in the Irish Independent yesterday, there are reports that €2.5m has been paid in compensation to prison officers "as the country's overcrowded jails struggle to stem the rising tide of violent attacks behind bars."

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