In 2012, the average cost of imprisonment per prisoner in Ireland was €65, 404. The current prison population is 4, 306. That’s an estimated 282, 000,000 of the tax payers money spent on prisons in Ireland per annum.
This Irish prison system consists of 15 different institutions. This is made up of eleven traditional ‘closed’ prisons, two ‘open’ prisons, a training prison and a prison for young offenders. All of our prisons are termed medium-low security, apart from Portlaoise prison; a male only prison and our countries only high security prison. The purpose of a prison is to retain those legally committed of a crime as punishment or whilst they await trial. ‘The mission of the Irish prison service (as stated in their 2010 Annual Report) is to provide safe, secure and humane custody for people who are sent to prison. The Service is committed to managing custodial sentences in a way which encourages and supports prisoners in their endeavouring to live law abiding and purposeful lives as valued members of society.’ This essay will examine the capital which is currently spent on the Irish prison system and assess if the Irish prison system merits the money which it expends. Is €65,404 a reasonable amount to spend on the legal punishment of one individual, and are the systems in place effective in providing our prisoners with rehabilitation and social regeneration? Utilising these findings the discussion will attempt to offer alternative systems of punishment to imprisonment.
The European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) carried out an examination of Irish prison conditions in January- February 2010. The report described ‘degrading’ behaviour and ‘un-hygienic’ conditions. An examination of Portlaoise prison’s E-block discovered inadequate and unacceptable sanitary facilities. The cells were small (6m²) and some of them were dilapidated with broken windows and dirty walls. None of the cells had in-cell sanitation and, at night, if a prisoner had to defecate he was likely thereafter to wrap up the faeces in a parcel and sometimes throw it out of the window. A typical day for a prisoner is made up of 16 ½ hours of ‘lock up’, those under severe confinement can endure 18 hours or more of being restricted to their cell. In extreme cases some prisoners may not even get to spend one hour a day outside of their cell. The CPT concluded that: ‘… 23-hour lock-up should only be considered as a temporary respite, whereas in the Irish prison system it has developed into a general measure.’ The Prisoner’s Life
Whilst research presents the inhumane conditions that exist in some of our prisons we also hear reports of recreationally facilities that some law abiding working class citizens do not even have access too. In 2009 journalist with the Evening Herald, Cormac Looney states that a sum of almost €200,000 was spent on sports equipment for prisoners in Ireland. He notes that Mountjoy Prison received €36,388 worth or sports, gym and recreational equipment, while inmates of the high-security Portlaoise prison which include former gang lord John Giligan received €28, 214 in sports equipment. Fiach Kelly of the Irish Independent informed us in 2010 that members of the Irish prison service had signed an additional €200,000 contract to upgrade our prisons for the subsequent three years. Kelly quotes Fine Gael’s then spokesman on public spending, Brian Hayes. "I fully accept the prisoners need proper gym facilities," he said. "The question is why are they being kitted out again at this cost. I find it quite extraordinary the IPS (Irish Prisoners Service) signed off on this lavish expenditure item." The IPS justified these expenses, claiming the equipment was of good value for the agreed price. An IPS spokesperson maintained that the provision of a gym would in the long run help prisoners to take control of other areas of their lives.
References: * Lonergan, J. 2010. The Governor. Dublin: Penguin Ireland.
* O’Donnell, I. and O’Sullivan. E. 2001. Crime Control in Ireland: The politics of Intolerance. Cork: Cork University Press.
* O’Mahony, P. 2000. Prison Policy in Ireland: Criminal Justice versus Social Justice. Cork: Cork University Press.
* Thompson, N. 2007. More Streetwise: Stories from Irish Prisons. Mullingar: Killynon House Books Ltd.
* Looney, C. 2009. €200k for prison gyms as garda budget slashed. The Evening Herald: Ireland [Online], 05 March. Available from: http://www.herald.ie/news/200k-for-prison-gyms-as-garda-budget-slashed-27903752.html [Accessed 09 May 2013].
* Matthews-Lynch, C. 2010. Are prisons a waste of money? [Online] BA, Dublin City University. Available: http://carlymatthews.me/writings/college/2nd-year/cm261-crime-the-media/ [Last Accessed 09 May 2013].
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