The Irish Penal Reform Trust has welcomed Justice Minister Michael McDowell's firm commitment that he will not pursue any plan to totally privatise prisons. This commitment came yesterday in the Dáil following intense questioning from TDs Aengus O Snodaigh (Sinn Féin), Ciarán Cuffe (Green Party) and Joe Costello (Labour).
During the debate, Minister McDowell assured the Dáil that "no plan" existed to completely privatise prisons, and said his priority is to maintain prison ownership, management and staffing squarely within the public sector.
"We are very pleased by the Minister's commitment against the total privatisation of prisons," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "As recently as September 19th, Prison Director Sean Aylward was quoted that he was 'not excluding it [privatisation] as an option.' The Minister's comments yesterday state clearly that the option of total privatisation is now off the table."
While welcoming the Minister's commitment against the total privatisation of prisons, the IPRT expressed strong concerns about the possible introduction of "semi-private" prisons, which are prevalent in France. These concerns follow the Minister's refusal to rule out schemes where prisons are built and maintained, and have ancillary services provided by, private corporations.
"We absolutely welcome the Minister's commitment to maintaining the prisons within the public sector," said Mr. Lines. "However, we remain concerned by his apparent willingness to consider imposing a 'semi-private' prison scheme in Ireland. Again we ask, 'Where is the evidence supporting this?'"
The Minister's comments came one day after the Penal Reform Trust held a briefing session for TDs to review the international evidence against prison privatisation, during which a British expert highlighted problems with "semi-private" prison schemes. It also comes three weeks after a group of prominent Irish experts in criminology, penology, law and human rights called upon Minister McDowell to publicly state his opposition to private prison plans
Said Mr. Lines, "Privatisation - whether 'total' or 'semi' - is no solution to the current problems in the prison service. Either way, it represents the introduction of corporate 'for-profit' motives into Irish criminal justice policy decision-making. This is wrong, and a dangerous foot to allow in the door. "Semi" bad policy is still bad policy."