The Irish Penal Reform Trust has expressed deep concern at media reports that Loughan House and Shelton Abbey prisons are slated for privatisation, stating that this plan completely contradicts a commitment made in the Dáil by Minister McDowell barely two months ago.
"On October 14th, the Minister told the Dáil, 'I can state categorically…that there is no plan in my Department to privatise the Prison Service,'" said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "Yet media reports in recent days citing 'senior' sources indicate that this plan is still on the table in regards to Loughan House and Shelton Abbey. This is further illustration of the Government's history of playing 'hide and seek' with the facts in an effort to deflect public scrutiny from its pro-privatisation agenda."
According to a Department of Justice press release, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey will be replaced "with institutions on the same sites managed by entities independent of the Irish Prison Service who would run these centres as transition hostels for prisoners reaching the end of their sentences." The IPRT has rubbished the suggestion made in some media reports that the operation of these facilities would be turned over to non-profit organisations, believing instead that the Department of Justice's intention is to hand the prisons over to corporate control. "Where does the Government suggest it will find non-profit organisations with the capacity to provide security staff for people serving prison sentences?" asked Mr Lines. "The truth is that other than the public sector, it is only the for-profit corporate sector that has the capability or experience to provide such services. The notion that Irish prisons can be run by non-profits is a red-herring being used to make the pro-privatisation agenda seem more palatable to the public in the short term."
According to the IPRT, international experience has shown prison privation to be a "failed policy" that has not been proven to result in cost savings or increased efficiencies. "How can the Government seriously propose to privatise pre-release facilities such as Loughan House and Shelton Abbey when there is not one piece of international evidence that privately run prisons have lower recidivism rates than public prisons?" said Mr Lines. Since August, the IPRT has called on the Government to produce evidence supporting privatisation as a viable solution to current problems. To date, no such evidence has been provided.
"Since August, we have argued that Minister McDowell is manufacturing a crisis within the Prison Service to push through an ideologically-driven pro-privatisation policy in the guise of a 'solution'. These recent developments, and the suspiciously careful use of language being employed by the Government in discussing its intentions vis-à-vis Loughan House and Shelton Abbey, have done nothing to alleviate that concern."