Plan to build prison at Thornton Hall gets approval


THE GOVERNMENT has approved in principle plans to build a prison at Thornton Hall in north Co Dublin.

The Department of Justice confirmed yesterday recommendations contained in a report it commissioned in April to build the prison, a scaled-down version of a previous plan, have been accepted “in principle” by the Government.

The Thornton Hall review group recommended a new jail with 300 cells capable of accommodating 500 prisoners to be developed at the Kilsallaghan site in north Co Dublin. The previous government had planned for a 2,200-bed prison on the 140-acre greenfield site.

The site was bought for almost €30 million at the height of the property boom. Fees for professional work, consultancy and site works have brought the bill for the prison up to almost €45 million so far.

The report also recommends that Cork Prison be closed at the earliest possible opportunity. A new prison will be developed at Kilworth, Co Cork, with 200 cells capable of accommodating up to 350 prisoners.

The review group also called for “decisive action” to address overcrowding and poor physical conditions, particularly in Mountjoy and Cork Prisons.

Welcoming the report, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the timeframe for the Thornton Hall and Kilworth prisons projects as outlined in the report will be discussed in the autumn in the context of the Government’s discussions on capital spending priorities for 2012.

The report also recommends that each prison should have a secure open centre regime within the prison walls.

“This objective requires managing safely and purposefully the transition of offenders from committal to a prison cell to eventual release into the community,” Mr Shatter said.

The review also identifies steps the group said should be taken to reduce the prisoner population.

A combination of so-called “front-door and back-door strategies” would involve giving the courts the power to impose a wider range of non-custodial sanctions. A further proposal includes the introduction of a home detention system in some cases.

Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said the report contained a “clear recognition of some key principles – the importance of meeting basic human rights standards, the need to reduce the prison population, and the need to create incentivised regimes where prisoners can aspire to progress to open facilities if they engage with rehabilitation, treatment and education”.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Dara Calleary said: “The Thornton Hall development is the second major project that Fine Gael and Labour strongly opposed in opposition, but have now given approval to since they entered Government.”