Plans to privatise Irish prisons have come under sharp attack today by a group of Ireland's leading experts in criminology, penology, law and human rights. In an open letter to Minister Michael McDowell released this morning (click link for text), the group condemns prison privatisation as "a foul notion that strikes at the very heart of the type of society we wish to build for ourselves and our children" and urges the Minister to publicly state his opposition to the plan.
The joint letter signed by sixteen university professors, lecturers, barristers and human rights advocates challenges claims that private prisons offer improved cost effectiveness and operational efficiency, stating that "after 20 years of international experience, overall these claims cannot be substantiated...The true balance sheet reveals privatisation to be a costly failure, with private prison companies being subsidised by taxpayers."
While the group agrees that the Irish prison system is in need of reform, they dismiss the suggestion that private prisons offer a viable solution, noting that there is "no evidence that private prisons reduce recidivism." The group calls on the Government to begin a process of "developing truly effective criminal justice and penal reform."
"As a society, Ireland should be working to develop social and justice systems that reduce crime and violence, reduce the social deprivation that leads to crime and violence, and ultimately reduce the state's reliance on prisons. Indeed, the surest way to reduce the high cost of incarceration in Ireland is to reduce the number of people we send to prison. This must be the goal of responsible government. The private sector does not and cannot share this goal. On the contrary, corporations that imprison people for profit can only maximise that profit when prisons are full to capacity. Placing Irish prisons under corporate control will copper-fasten increased imprisonment - rather than crime reduction - as the state's de facto justice policy for the foreseeable future. While this may be good for business, it is bad for Ireland."
The letter is signed by Ivana Bacik (Faculty of Law, Trinity College Dublin), Dr. Valerie Bresnihan (Board of Directors, Irish Penal Reform Trust), Patrick Dillon-Malone (Barrister at Law), Aileen Donnelly (Barrister at Law), Professor Caroline Fennell (Faculty of Law, University College Cork), Claire Hamilton (Barrister at Law), Dr. Ursula Kilkelly (Faculty of Law, University College Cork), Rick Lines (Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust), Ciaran McCullagh (Department of Sociology, University College Cork), Tim Murphy (Faculty of Law, University College Cork), Donncha O'Connell (Faculty of Law, NUI Galway), Dr. Mick O'Connell (Department of Psychology, University College Dublin), Dr. Paul O'Mahony (Department of Occupational Therapy, Trinity College Dublin), Aisling Reidy (Executive Director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties), Professor Dermot Walsh (University of Limerick) and Dr. Darius Whelan (Faculty of Law, University College Cork).