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McDowell's Prison Privatisation Plans Condemned

5th January 2004

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has condemned plans by Justice Minister Michael McDowell to privatise Loughan House and Shelton Abbey prisons, calling privatisation a "failed policy".  The Trust also emphasised that Friday's announcement is in complete contradiction to statements made by the Minister in October.

"On October 14th, Minister McDowell stood in the Dáil and told the Irish public 'I can state categorically…that there is no plan in my Department to privatise the Prison Service,'" said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines.  "Yet on Friday this same Minister tells us that exactly the opposite is true, and that he intends to turn over the running of Irish prisons for the profit of private companies.  That such a decision can be made in absence of explanation or evidence of effectiveness would suggest the Government has been playing a game of 'hide and seek' with the facts in an effort to deflect public scrutiny from their true agenda. Is it any wonder that the public has such cynicism in the integrity of this Government?"

According to the IPRT, international experience has shown prison privation to be a "failed policy" that has not proven to result in either cost savings or increased efficiency, and the organisation has called on the Government to produce any evidence supporting privatisation as a viable solution to current problems.  This challenge has also been made by sixteen of Ireland's leading experts in criminology, penology, law and human rights who in September released an open letter to Minister McDowell against prison privatisation.  To date, neither the Minister nor the Prison Service has provided any evidence that handing over Irish prisons to corporate control will result in either increased efficiencies or reduced costs.

Said Mr Lines, "Effective justice policy must be based upon evidence.  However, in this case justice policy is being based on wishful thinking and a knee-jerk ideological assumption that 'private' is more efficient than 'public'. How can the Minister seriously propose the privatisation pre-release facilities when there is not one piece of international evidence that privately run prisons have lower recidivism rates than public prisons? How can he seriously suggest that privatisation will improve the running of the prison service when private prisons in the U.S. have 50% more prisoner-on-staff assaults and 2/3 more prisoner-on prisoner assaults than public prisons?  Are these really the types of 'reforms' that the Minister hopes to leave as his legacy?"

"Since August, we have argued that Minister McDowell has been manufacturing a crisis within the Prison Service to push through an ideologically driven privatisation policy in the guise of a 'solution'. 

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