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Prison Privatisation Plans Condemned

22nd September 2003

Plans by the Fianna Fail/PD government to privatise Irish prisons have come under sharp criticism from a group of prominent academics, barristers and human rights advocates.

In an open letter to Justice Minister Michael McDowell, the group - which includes many of Ireland's leading figures in criminology, penology, law and human rights - challenges claims that private prisons are economical or innovative, citing instead international experience that "reveals privatisation to be a costly failure, with private prison companies being subsidised by taxpayers." The signatories call upon Minister McDowell to publicly state his opposition to prison privatisation and to commit to a process of truly effective criminal justice and penal reform.

"The incarceration of Irish people for the profit of corporations is a foul notion that strikes at the very heart of the type of society we wish to build for ourselves and our children," said Ivana Bacik, law lecturer at Trinity College.  "Yes, the prison system is in desperate need of reform.  But privatisation represents a copper-fastening of the mistakes of the past, rather than a recipe for a better future.  If implemented, the Government will be trading one bad policy for another."

"If the Government is truly concerned about the high cost of incarceration, they must look to address the root causes of crime, and reduce the number of people sent to prison," said Dr Paul O'Mahony, criminologist from Trinity College.  "Crime reduction must be the goal of responsible government. The private sector does not and cannot share this goal, as corporations that imprison people for profit can only maximise that profit when prisons are full to capacity.  If the Government privatises Irish prisons, they will be putting corporate interest before public interest."

"While reform of the prison system is long overdue, it must be based upon sound international evidence and best practice, not the failed and simplistic ideological imperatives that have driven prison privatisation in other parts of the world," said Rick Lines, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.  "The Government is attempting to manufacture a crisis in the prison service in order to force through an unpopular measure disguised as a 'solution'.  Let us be clear that privatisation is no solution."

"If the Government is truly committed to addressing problems in the prison system, we challenge them to begin a national dialogue towards developing truly effective criminal justice and penal reform," said Aisling Reidy, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

The open letter to Justice Minister McDowell against prison privatisation will be released at a press conference at Buswell's Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 on Wednesday, September 24 at 10:00am by Ivana Bacik, Dr. Paul O'Mahony, Aisling Reidy and Rick Lines.  Following the press conference the group will walk to Leinster House to present the letter to the Government.

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