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McDowell retrogressive on prison policy-making

6 May, 2004

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD today refuted Justice Minister Michael McDowell‚s signalling that electronic tagging may be introduced for prisoners calling him "more of a retrogressive democrat than a progressive one."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The information that has come out of the Prison Visiting Committee Annual reports is shocking in the extreme. In an age where Ireland is known for its high standard of living worldwide, these reports paint a picture of a draconian, Victorian era where people ˆ in this case prisoners ˆ are given treatment below what most domestic animals receive. Amongst the 13 prisons reported on, serious problems exist which impact very negatively on the lives of the prisoners, ranging from overcrowding, lack of in-cell sanitation, lack of drugs treatment programmes amidst continued drug availability, suicides, understaffing, lack of psychiatric services and high levels of illiteracy. These issues cannot continue to be ignored by the Minister for Justice. He has poured •100 million into Mountjoy prison only to announce it will be abolished while he continues to have prisoners housed in a section of Portlaoise prison which was condemned 40 years ago as being unfit.

"Once again, it is totally unacceptable that Minister McDowell would opt to go down the road of a failed US model by advocating the introduction of electronic tagging. While I would welcome increased non-custodial alternatives to prison sentences, there is no conclusive evidence internationally to suggest that this practice is a cost-saving measure and recidivism rates are similar to those who have served their sentences. Similarly, with his proposal for mandatory drug testing for prisoners, the evidence in other jurisdictions suggests that it has the exact opposite effect ˆ that of increasing opiate use among prisoners. Otherjurisdictions are in the process of moving beyond these failed models but Mr. McDowell proves yet again that he is more of a retrogressive democrat than a progressive one. He is introducing policies which fit with his own ideology ˆ not those of International best practice or which have evidence of positive outcomes ˆ and this type of policy-making must stop. „ ENDS

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