Angry Shatter orders review of 'scandalous' new prison project
A review of the controversial Thornton Hall prison campus project in Dublin has been ordered by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
Mr Shatter said yesterday that it was scandalous that €45m had already been spent on the project without building work even getting under way.
He told the Irish Independent that the review would begin next week and promised that it would be completed by the beginning of July.
Figures revealed in a briefing document for Mr Shatter showed the extent of the accommodation crisis in the nation's prisons, which are now operating at 104pc of bed capacity -- the Dochas centre for women inmates is at 131pc.
Mr Shatter said only after the review would a decision be made on whether the project in north Co Dublin would go ahead.
The site was bought for almost €30m in 2005, but work so far has been confined to the building of an access road, landscaping, fees, surveys and security.
Plans to build Thornton through a public-private partnership were scrapped two years ago.
It was originally intended that the site should include a series of jails to replace the capital's existing Mountjoy campus.
Mr Shatter said he had concerns about the costs involved and also whether Thornton would meet the needs of the Irish Prison Service.
He felt that an enormous, extraordinary and scandalous amount of money had been spent on Thornton, particularly on the acquisition of the site, but he acknowledged that the €45m had already been spent.
His aim was to ensure that the project made both economic sense and sense in the context of the development of the prison service.
"I have to ensure in the current financial climate that we marshal our financial resources in a way that's efficient, that makes sense and that will provide us with the type of prison system that not only provides the additional cell spaces needed but a prison service that is truly reflective of 21st Century values and needs," he added.
Mr Shatter also criticised his predecessors for the number of prisoners that had been allowed out on temporary release in the past and said that this problem had to be addressed as quickly as possible.
He was also concerned at the rate of recidivism and the high numbers that were back in jail within five years of release.
Mr Shatter also disclosed that he had visited Mountjoy Prison 10 days ago and that he was aware that significant changes had taken place there over the past nine months, since the appointment of new governor Ned Whelan.
"Mountjoy today is a changed place to what it was some time ago," Mr Shatter added, in a reference to the new regime that has been established to clamp down on the smuggling of drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into the prison.