Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Minister's prison plans should be scrapped

16 January, 2004

Speaking in advance of the planned closure of the Curragh Place of Detention on Monday as part of the Minister for Justice's prison restructuring plans, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called for the scrapping of the Minister's plans as they "do not tackle the real sources of overspending on the prison service and bear no relation to the need for comprehensive reform." Sinn Féin are calling on the Minister to embark on systematic, comprehensive, evidence-based reforms and restructuring following a transparent review process.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"There are a number of unanswered questions about the Minister's plans, not least of which is whether they will ultimately cost less than present configurations.

"For example, the Minister has made a commitment that no prison officer jobs will be lost as a result of the restructuring. But he has also indicated that Shelton Abbey and Loughan House will be reopened under new management. If they are not going to be run by prison officers, this will mean paying for additional staff. He has decided to outsource the prison escort service against the recommendation of his own expert group who were unconvinced that private contracting would cost less. Indeed, the Minister admitted to me that comparative costing for this service had not been done. In addition, his closure plans do not affect the two most expensive prisons to run - much less those actually recommended for closure by the Prison Inspectorate. If the Minister cannot conclusively demonstrate that his overall package will save the taxpayer money, then his plans make no sense. At minimum, he must publish a full comparative costing of his plans and present arrangements to let the public judge for themselves.

"In the long run, the Minister's plans may even cost us more. For example, in contrast to his guarantees on prison officer jobs, he has said he will make no guarantees for the jobs of those who work in rehabilitative services in these institutions. Employment and training workshops in some prisons are already closing and prison educators being laid off due to budgetary cutbacks imposed by the Minister. Despite the critical role rehabilitation, education and training services for prisoners play in reducing repeat-offending, and thus medium to long-term costs, the Minister has refused to ringfence any overtime savings for redeployment to these services. But if repeat-offending is not reduced, prisoner numbers will stay stable or increase and the service will cost more.

"It is true that we are spending too much on Prison Officer overtime, but we are also spending far too much on imprisonment generally. Overtime is a factor, but it is not the only factor. The two real sources of the prison budget overspending are over-incarceration and high prisoner-staff ratios.

"There is no question that the prison service needs to be restructured, and its high costs tackled. In fact, it needs a comprehensive review and reform with a view to modernisation and to bring it in-line with best international practice. This is what Sinn Féin is calling for. However the Minister's plans to restructure the service are not based on evidence or expert review and recommendation and bear no relation to the need for comprehensive reform. They should be scrapped." ENDS

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