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Government prison policy populist, ill-thought out and doomed to failure -- Ó Snodaigh

26 September, 2006


Responding to the Irish Prison Service's annual report that demonstrated a substantial increase in the cost of keeping people in prison at three times the rate of inflation Sinn Féin's Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD blamed the 'ideologically right wing, populist and ill-thought out war on crime approach favoured by the PD Justice Minister.' He went on to point out that detention for non-violent offenders costs 30 times the amount of a community service order and that the Minister had misled the public on the prison overtime bill.

The Dublin South-Central TD said: "The ever increasing cost of the prison system to taxpayers is a direct result of the ideologically right wing, populist and ill-thought out war on crime approach favoured by the PD Justice Minister and the rest of the establishment parties. The approach is doomed to fail both in terms of reducing crime, and the costs of crime, and this is evidenced by the monumental failure of the same approach in the United States.

"The solution to prison spending inflation does not lie, as McDowell and others would have us believe, in building a superprison, rather the answer lies in changing sentencing practices. According to the Irish Prison Service's annual report the number of people in detention for violent offences has decreased while those detained for lesser non-violent offences has increased. A quarter of all those sentenced for 6 months or less are in prison for the non-payment of fines.

"The cost of keeping those people in prison is on average €45,000 while a 6 month community service order under the supervision of the Probation and Welfare Service would cost just €1,500. If we want to seriously address the costs of keeping people in prisons we must look seriously at ensuring alternative sentencing options are available for non-violent offenders. The current Government has starved the Probation and Welfare Service of resources because their preferred route is to simplistically lock up their problems.

"The Minister has misled the public by claiming he had the overtime overspend sorted out and by indicating that he would invest the savings from this agreement on rehabilitation. Yet according to the Irish Prison Service annual report they spent more on overtime in 2005 than in 2004. With no investment in rehabilitation, rates of re-offending will not be improved and the taxpayer's prison spending bill will continue to increase."

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