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The Irish Times: Mountjoy to stay open when new jail built

5th August 2011

Mountjoy Prison is to remain open even after the planned new prison at Thornton Hall - which was to replace it - is completed and operating, writes Conor Lally in today's Irish Times.

The article describes how plans for the new prison near Swords, north Co Dublin, have been scaled back in the proposals presented in the Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group, which was published by the Minister for Justice on Thurs 28th July, 2011.

The revised proposal is for a prison which will accommodate 500 prisoners rather than the 1,400 (with potential to double up to 2,200) as originally envisaged. "It will now be too small to replace Mountjoy, which houses between 800 and 900 inmates*. This is despite Thornton Hall having been planned for the specific purpose of replacing Mountjoy," writes Lally.

[*In fact, Mountjoy Prison itself has a design capacity of 540, bed capacity of 630, and has accommodated up to 720 in crowded conditions; St Patrick's Institution, which is also on the Mountjoy complex, has a capacity of 220, and generally operates at capacity.]

The article cites the Irish Penal Reform Trust as saying that "the Irish Prison Service and previous governments had decided Mountjoy was no longer suitable to house inmates, but now it is being decided that the 200-year-old jail is suitable again."

IPRT Executive Director, Liam Herrick said that when the planned 500-space Thornton Hall was completed the Government should follow through with its original plan to close Mountjoy.

While there would be a shortfall of some 300 to 400 spaces, new non-custodial policies could be developed that would keep non-violent offenders out of the prison system and substantially reduce the prison population. This could be done through greater use of community service as an alternative to imprisonment, as well as more effective use of remission and parole. “Even with planned renovations done in Mountjoy, there is a definite question mark over the viability of the prison,” Mr Herrick said.

Lally reports that in response to queries from The Irish Times, the Department of Justice confirmed the closure of Mountjoy in the medium term would not be possible:

It said in a statement: “There are two reasons: the prison at Thornton Hall will be smaller than the prison previously envisaged; and it will take time for non-custodial community-based sanctions to have effect on the size of the prison population.”

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