Change in prison culture needed – Fine Gael response to overcrowding disgraceful

27 April 2023

Labour justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has characterised the Justice Minister’s response to prison overcrowding as out of touch and inhumane.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said tackling socioeconomic disadvantage is the solution to prison overcrowding, not building more prisons.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“It’s is bankrupt thinking from the Minster to suggest that the solution to prison overcrowding is more prisons. We have too many people in prison who shouldn’t be there. Our prison system is currently not working to prevent re-offending, to protect victims of crime or to keep society safe. Instead, it is marked by pernicious overcrowding.

“This has had a knock-on effect on prison conditions. Prison conditions generally were poor, characterised by drug misuse, violence, gang conflict and inadequate physical conditions. Opportunities for rehabilitation are limited, and prisoners are released in an unstructured way with few measures available to prevent re-offending.

“The official response to these serious problems from Minister Harris is to build more prisons; despite the clear view expressed in the many expert reports produced over the years that prison should be a sanction of last resort; and that greater reliance should be placed on community-based sanctions, to achieve more effective rehabilitation and reduce re-offending rates.

“The arguments for decarceration are compelling. It is widely accepted that prison rates have a very small impact on crime rates, and that numbers imprisoned can be lowered without exposing the public to risk. Indeed, evidence shows that measures to tackle recidivism work best within a well ordered prison system with good sentence management strategies – and cannot work in a system characterised by severe overcrowding and unstructured release.

“Unfortunately, our system has been characterised by these features – and by poor conditions, with more than half of all prisoners sharing cells, meaning that even where in-cell sanitation has been introduced, prisoners have to use the toilet in front of their cell-mates. The Minister’s comments show a shocking lack of social context. Indeed, it is the failure of Fine Gael to tackle disadvantage and inequality that continues to drive more and more people into crime.”

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