On page 50 of the First Annual Inspector of Prisons Report is a small section on the issue of private prisons - a piece that managed to slip through without garnering any media attention. Commentary on this issue seems a bit out of place in the report of the Irish Prisons Inspector, given that there are no private prisons in the state to inspect. Yet knowing the commitment of the Progressive Democrats to privatising public services, it definitely caught our eye.
The Report paints a rather rosy image of private prisons, noting "competition [from private prisons] in England has resulted in the streamlining of the Prison Service". No evidence is cited to support this statement, which is made without reference to the significant body of international research disputing the claims that private prisons save public money. The Report further notes that the "Inspector...intends to look at this aspect of the matter."
At the time the Report was published, we were more than a little surprised to find the Irish Prisons Inspector looking into private prisons. Private prisons do not exist in Ireland, and the Irish Government had certainly made no public announcement of an interest in privatisation at the time the Report was completed. This led us at the time to wonder whether Justice Kinlen had heard something we hadn't?
Over the last month, our instincts on this have been proved correct. Numerous media reports have quoted both Minister Michael McDowell and Prison Director Sean Aylward as stating that privatisation is under consideration. Just how long has privatisation been under discussion within the Government and the Prison Service, and based upon what evidence? These questions remain to be answered.
The IPRT will be monitoring this issue closely. See page 3 for more developments on this issue.