‘Disjointed’ prisoner transport could be privatised, study suggests
Department of Justice value-for-money review says private market in Ireland untested
A prison van approaches the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin. The Department of Justice report warned while prison officers and gardaí — who presently transport prisoners — could be reassigned by contracting out the services, this could bring industrial relations unrest.
Privatising prisoner transport should be considered as an alternative to existing arrangements which are “disjointed” and “sub-optimal” , a Department of Justice report has found.
The option of using private sector operators to ferry inmates between prisons, to courthouses and hospital appointments is among six alternatives suggested to the present system in a value-for-money review.
While the report urges prisons chiefs to open discussions with counterparts in Britain — where prisoners are transported by sub-contracted private operators — it adds that improvements should be made to current system first before looking to other options.
While prison officers and gardaí — who presently transport prisoners — could be reassigned to “core duties” by contracting out the services, the report also warns of the potential for industrial relations unrest from any such move.
The private market is also “untested” in Ireland and there is no guarantee it would lead to savings, it says.
The study also urges more use of video-link technology to reduce the need for prisoner transport, which costs around 17.2 million euro a year.
Up to three-quarters of recorded prisoner appearances in court could potentially be organised through video-link, based on a sample review of prisoner and court activity at the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin, the study found.
Currently less than one in ten of all prisoner court appearances use the technology.
This is despite most prisons and an increasing number of courthouses having been fitted with video-link facilities.
The review also found the absence of any specialist logistics and technical support among prison officers and gardaí responsible for transporting inmates.
Giving an “extreme but not unusual” example of current practice, the report says a five-minute court appearance for a single prisoner can currently involve four different journeys and travel of over 400km.
This is because staff can be called from one prison to another to transport an inmate onward to a courthouse elsewhere in the country.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he will set up an “oversight group” to assess the report’s recommendations.
“I am pleased to see the review found that our current prisoner escort systems have many strengths, including the efficiency and professionalism of staff,” he said.
“It is also important to acknowledge however that there are areas where we can improve.
“Given the complex nature of this area, and the multi-agency impact of the report’s conclusions and recommendations, I think it is important to establish a delivery oversight group to help further analyse the recommendations and establish an implementation programme.”