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McDowell Plan will make Ireland one of EU's top jailers, and increase prison spending by up to €100 million annually

7th April 2004

Michael McDowell's massive prison expansion plans will make Ireland one of the top jailers in the European Union, according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust.  It will also increase annual prison spending by as much as €100 million per year.

Citing figures provided by the International Centre for Prison Studies (London), the IPRT notes that if the Minister's plans to add 1,200 new prison spaces are enacted, Ireland will become fourth on the list of the EU's top incarcerators.

Ireland's current rate of incarceration is 85 persons per 100,000 population - a rate consistent with the EU average of 88 per 100,000, making Ireland 10th of the fifteen EU member states in terms of imprisonment rate. In his plan to expand the Irish prison population by one-third - to 4,500 prisoners - the incarceration rate will jump to 115 per 100,000, placing Ireland in competition with the European Union's "big three" incarcerators - England (142), Spain (140) and Portugal (134) - for the uneviable distinction of the EU's top jailer.  If this massive increase in Irish imprisonment takes place, Ireland's incarceration rate will equal that of Canada and Australia, and leap well ahead of most of the European Union: Luxembourg (111), Austria (100), Netherlands (100), Italy (99), Germany (98), France (93), Belgium (88), Greece (83), Denmark (72), Sweden (72) and Finland (69).

"It would certainly be a sad and ironic legacy for Minister McDowell - and indeed for Ireland - if his main accomplishment as Minister was to move Ireland into a "medal position" in such a dubious contest," said Rick Lines, IPRT Executive Director.

The IPRT also pointed out that by increasing the prison population by 1,200, Minister McDowell will add as much as €100 million to annual prison spending. 

According to the Irish Prison Service, the annual cost of incarcerating a person for one year is €84,750.  At this level, an additional 1,200 prisoners would cost the state over €100 million per year.  Even using the more conservative incarceration costs found in newer Irish prisons (€72,000 annually), the total would still top €86 million per year.

"These figures reveal yet again the degree to which the Department of Justice is involved in a game of 'hide and seek' with the facts in order to promote failed prison policies based on ideology rather than evidence," said Mr. Lines.  "For months now the Minister has used the excuse of unsustainable prison costs as a rationale for pushing through any number of controversial policy changes - from privatisation to prison closures.  Now that he is able to 'pocket' those changes, suddenly the money appears to increase annual prison spending by up to €100 million per year to support an ill-conceived prison expansion programme?"

"That such a massive and expensive increase in imprisonment can even be contemplated within an environment where the crime rate is steady or even decreasing illustrates the Government's backwards approach to this important issue. The public is crying out for more hospital beds, yet the Government instead wants to divert scarce resources into the folly of new prison beds.  The Government clearly has an interesting perspective on the notion of value for money."