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McDowell's prison plans chaotic and reactionary - Real reform needed

11 November, 2003

Sinn  Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has criticised the Minister for Justice's plans for restructuring the prison service,  saying they "fall far short of the comprehensive and systematic reform needed  to  stop  the  overspend  and to bring Irish prisons into line with best practice."  Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"From  a  public  interest  point of view, it makes no sense to close one of the least  expensive,  and one of the most effective prisons in the state.  It makes no  sense  to  privatise  the prisoner escort service contrary to a Departmental Expert  Group's  recommendations.  We  don't  know how to interpret his plans to temporarily  transfer  the  management  of  two open prisons 'outside the Prison Service'.   The  Minister must have a plan beyond this, and we have the right to know.   If  it  is  a  stepping-stone  to  privatisation  or to semi-private PPP institutions, he must at least explain publicly why he would consider this move, which  does  not  conform  with  international best practice models for a prison service.

"From  what  we know of them, the Minister's plans do not tackle the fundamental and  underlying  structural  problems  of over-incarceration for non-violent and minor  offences  and  excessively high prisoner-staff ratios - both of which are imposing unreasonable costs to the state.  They do not address the need to close several other prisons for health and safety reasons as recommended by the Prison Inspectorate.   They  would  not  appear  to  increase  rehabilitative and other services  to reduce recidivism, and as recommended by the European Committee for the  Prevention  of  Torture.   Mr.  McDowell needs to explain the basis for his apparently  chaotic  and reactionary plans, which would seem to bear no relation whatsoever to expert opinion or evidence.

"The reality is there is a pressing need for comprehensive and systematic reform of  the  prison  service  based  on  best  international  practice, not unproven rightwing ideology.  The Minister should go back to the drawing board." ENDS

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