25 September 2003 Edition

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Prison privatisation must be rejected

Government plans to privatise Irish prisons have come under sharp criticism from a group of prominent academics, barristers and human rights advocates.

In an open letter to Justice Minister Michael McDowell, the group - which includes many of Ireland's leading figures in criminology, penology, law and human rights - challenges claims that private prisons are economical or innovative, citing instead international experience that "reveals privatisation to be a costly failure, with private prison companies subsidised by taxpayers". The signatories call upon Minister McDowell to publicly state his opposition to prison privatisation and to commit to a process of truly effective criminal justice and penal reform.

"While reform of the prison system is long overdue, it must be based upon sound international evidence and best practice, not the failed and simplistic ideological imperatives that have driven prison privatisation in other parts of the world," says Rick Lines of the Irish Penal Reform Trust. "The government is attempting to manufacture a crisis in the prison service in order to force through an unpopular measure disguised as a 'solution'. Let us be clear that privatisation is no solution."

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, welcomed the intervention, commenting that, "true to form, Minister McDowell appears ready to proceed with prison privatisation by stealth". He said it was a "necessary kickstart to a fuller public debate on an issue of public importance".

"There has been no discussion of the fact that if privatisation is brought in that it will represent a major, unsignalled shift in penal policy. There has been no public debate full stop. We need a proper debate to focus on the needs of society, and the international evidence that points clearly to growing concerns around the issue of prison privatisation.

"We need to tackle the social injustices that lead many people into crime in the first place. And we must ensure that the revolving door nature of current prison policy comes to an end by reducing rates of recidivism through providing proper rehabilitative services. This can never be the aim or objective of a private corporation who will need full prisons to maximise profits."


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