Quinn's jail privileges show touch of class
In 2005, the inspectorate, which is often harshly critical of conditions in the system, called the unit “a very good service to prisoners . . . those of them who wish to partake in work training, education or whatever line they wish to follow are encouraged, supported and helped all the way”. Conditions have deteriorated somewhat since then because of overcrowding and staff reductions, but the unit is still the Ritz of the prison world.
So why does Seán Quinn get to serve his time there? The official description of the purpose of the unit runs as follows: “The main focus of the Training Unit is to provide industrial training and education to prisoners, assisting them in securing employment on release . . . The majority of the prisoners have served a greater part of the sentence in other prisons and then transferred as part of a planned sentence programme.” The unit also has a secondary purpose – as a safe place for prisoners with a history of substance abuse who are completing a detox programme.
What the unit is emphatically not supposed to be for is prisoners serving short sentences. The 2005 prison inspectorate report (the only one I can find that gives a detailed breakdown of the nature of the inmates) shows that of the 96 prisoners then in the unit, none was serving a sentence of less than six months and just one was serving a sentence of less than a year. By contrast, 58 were serving sentences of four years to life. It is quite clear the primary function of the unit is to act as a bridge back into society for long-term prisoners.
Seán Quinn is not serving a long sentence – he’s in for three months. He’s not recovering from substance abuse. He is not in need of training: he’s a very well educated businessman. There is nothing to suggest he was assessed in Mountjoy and deemed to be especially in need of the specific and highly privileged facilities of the Training Unit: he was in Mountjoy for one night.
But because Quinn is there, someone else isn’t. Statistically, that anonymous someone is probably badly educated, from a poor urban background and caught up in drugs. The unit houses just 117 inmates – a tiny fraction of the 4,000-plus male prison population. Almost every one of those 4,000 men wants to be where Quinn is, and many of them are on the waiting list to get in. But they’re from the wrong class and they committed the wrong sort of offence. Even in prison, there are two Irelands and two kinds of crime.