27th July 2010
A Government plan to expand the State's prison capacity without first addressing the reasons behind the rising rate of imprisonment is ill-judged, the Irish Penal Reform Trust said.
The organisation said the Department of Justice appeared to have no overarching strategy when it came to the penal system and that it feared the capacity created by the development of Thornton Hall would be quickly filled by new inmates rather than used to alleviate poor conditions and overcrowding elsewhere.
Irish Penal Reform Trust executive director Liam Herrick said Thornton Hall, when mooted, was seen as a way of addressing long standing problems at Mountjoy.
He said it was originally suggested inmates would be housed in single cells but that 700 people would occupy just 400 cells under the new plans.
"That the prison is now to go ahead but already planning to double up indicates that the emphasis is not on improving conditions and regimes but merely increasing capacity," he said.
"Questions remain as to what plans are in place for addressing the chronic and inhumane conditions in Mountjoy Prison, and whether Ireland can afford an ever-expanding prison estate which fails to address the underlying causes of crime".
"What we have is a prison system in crisis, and what we need from Minister Ahern, the department and the Irish Prison Service is vision - not more fire fighting."
Labour Party spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte said the fine design and promises for Thornton Hall were gone out the window. Mr Rabbitte said the project was "one of the most expensive, misconceived and poorly planned in the history of the State".
"[Mr Ahern] has shown no interest in penal reform and alternatives to prison that would require many prisoners, for example, to do community service rather than contributing to dangerous overcrowding at Mountjoy."
Fine Gael justice spokesman Alan Shatter said amount of money wasting and time delay that have characterised the Thornton Hall project from the start made it difficult to believe any timeline or financial estimate the Government put forward. "Over €42 million has been spent on the Thornton Hall project with almost nothing to show for it," he said.