Report rejects call for private prisons


Privatising prisons would not reduce reoffending, would not save money and would not lead to innovative practices, a report published today finds.

The report, from Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), challenges claims from the Inspector of Prisons, Mr Justice Dermot Kinlen, who last month said there should be a trial privatisation of one prison.

If the trial was successful, said Mr Justice Kinlen in his third annual report, the Irish Prison Service should have to compete with private companies for contract renewals every five years.

However, the IPRT describes his claims as based on "conjecture" and "inaccuracy" and providing no basis for privatisation.

The report calls on Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to "make a firm and unequivocal commitment" against privatising prisons, "in particular the new 'super prisons' planned for Dublin and Cork".

It says the resolution of the Irish Prison Officers' Association (IPOA) dispute means there is now no rationale for privatisation. The IPRT notes the inspector says a well-run private prison "costs less than State prisons". The trust says there is no published independent data in Britain or elsewhere to support this. "In fact, the British government - an enthusiastic supporter of privatisation - claimed cost savings of only 1 per cent by contracted prisons in England and Wales."

The IPRT quotes similar findings from the United States, while in Australia the Department of Corrective Services this year found housing prisoners in New South Wales' only private prison cost more than in the public sector.

It quotes British prisons minister in July 2004, Paul Goggins, who said: "There is no simple way to track the spread of innovative working practices between the private and public sectors."

In Australia, in October 2003, the then justice minister said: "It is clear that this privatisation delivered no benefit to the community".

The IPRT says the main performance indicator for the success of a prison should be the rate of reoffending. "On this key point there is no evidence that the private prisons produce lower rates of reoffending," says the report.

It quotes British government statements and American studies to support this.

A spokesman for Mr McDowell would not give a commitment against prison privatisation. However, he said: "It has always been the preference of the Minister that the prison service should be managed by public servants.

"The question of privatisation only arose in the context of an industrial relations impasse with the Prison Officers' Association, which has now been brought to an end."