Madam, - The decision to close Shanganagh Castle in Shankill, Co Dublin, the only open prison for juveniles between the ages of 16 and 21, is the most retrograde decision on penal policy ever made by an Irish Minister for Justice.

Shanganagh Castle is the only open prison for juveniles in the state. It is the only institution where vulnerable young offenders can serve their sentences in drug-free conditions free from bullying and free from the oppression and stress which causes countless incidents of self- inflicted injuries and suicides.

In Shanganagh Castle young offenders can use a wide range of educational, training and recreational programmes. The success of the regime is reflected in the statistics which indicate a recidivist rate of lower than 30 per cent.

The closure will mark the end of the policy of rehabilitation of young offenders as facilities and opportunities for rehabilitation are severely curtailed in the "catch-all" closed prisons of St Patrick's Institution, and Fort Mitchell, Spike Island.

The Minister has acted contrary to the policies articulated in the National Economic and Social Forum's Report on Prisons 2002 which was launched and approved by the Taoiseach earlier this year.

It appears that Mr McDowell has succumbed to the cutback frenzy of the Minister for Finance. It is a sad reflection on the new Prison Service to see it touting the 25 acres of open prison land at Shanganagh Castle to estate agents for property development. - Yours, etc.,


Labour Party Spokesperson on Justice,

Leinster House,

Dublin 2.