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More Reactions: Thornton Hall review report

12th August 2011

The Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice on 28th July, 2011. While the report includes many principles which are to be welcomed, including the unequivocal message that overcrowding “will not be solved solely by building more prisons”, the group ultimately recommends that a prison is to go ahead on the site, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. IPRT is highly concerned that in the absence of a commitment to close unsuitable prison accommodation, any new prison building project amounts to penal expansion.

IPRT has been opposed to the building of a large mixed-security prison on the Thornton Hall site from the outset; we have consistently raised our objections to the project on the basis of size, location, security-levels, and plans to co-locate facilities for young offenders, women offenders, those detained under immigration law, and the Central Mental Hospital (as was originally proposed.)

While a number of these issues are addressed within the proposals – the Dóchas Centre will remain on its current site; young offenders will not be transferred there; and the CMH is not to be co-located on the prison site – the size, location and plans to double-up from the outset are of serious concern.

The Irish Times: An open policy for prisons would serve us all better

In an opinion piece published in The Irish Times, Kevin Warner (former national co-ordinator of prison education from 1979 to 2009) identifies a number of contradictions in the Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group which was published on 28th July, and makes a cogent argument for a shift to smaller, local prisons, open prison options and step-down facilities:

"The report begins promisingly, framing its ideas in a human rights context and asserting the principles of “normalisation, progression and rehabilitation” that are very much part of Council of Europe thinking on imprisonment...However, this principled thinking has hardly any bearing on the final conclusions and recommendations of the report."

Outlining the serious issues which exist, including the lack of in-cell sanitation and privacy, lack of purposeful activities, over-reliance on protection regimes, and more, Warner states:

“These conditions arise from an indifference to regime standards in the last decade or more, punitive policies which have doubled the prison population, and increasingly restrictive arrangements in all closed prisons as 'care' is abandoned in deference to 'custody'.”

Warner echoes recommendations made by Fr Peter McVerry that the remote location of the Thornton Hall and Kilworth sites would be appropriate for custodial drug treatment facilities.

Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice: 'Inadequate Prison Conditions now cemented in Policy of the New Government'

Similar recommendations were made in a press release issued by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (29th July 2011.) The size of the proposed prison [up to 500 in closed medium-security prison system + 200 in step-down facilities], the planning for 'doubling up' in cells, and the unsuitable location are among the issues identified. Fr Peter McVerry SJ comments:

“The Thornton Hall project was misguided from the beginning. The revised proposal does not radically alter the original plans. I believe the project should be abandoned.

"The multi-million euro capital budget for prison building programmes over the coming few years would be far better used in tackling drug addiction and the establishment of a custodial drug treatment facility.”

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