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Time for a new prison system

I read an article by Fiach Kelly under the heading: "Prisons to spend €200,000 on 'lavish' equipment for gyms" (Irish Independent, October 13).

I double-checked the date on the paper to make sure it was not April 1. Unfortunately, the article was not a joke.

What is next for the pampered criminals, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern? Swimming pools, jacuzzis and saunas?

With the current state of the public finances, this is yet another example of a total waste of taxpayers' money.

Our great Fianna Fail/Green coalition partners attack and screw the most vulnerable in society: the sick, the disabled and the elderly.

These law-abiding citizens have been forced on to the streets to protest against cuts in what they are entitled to.

Everyone is expected to accept the hard cuts 'needed' to run the country. Everyone, that is, except the criminals.

Is our Government of muppets in touch with reality at all?

Each prison place is already costing tens of thousands of euro annually.

Our soft prison system proves that firing money at a problem doesn't work -- it has provided little deterrent or rehabilitative value. Some prisons are like holiday camps with all the facilities that are provided, from the quality and choice of food to the leisure and entertainment on offer to prisoners.

They have it so good that a celebrity chef was brought into one of the prisons to show them how to get the best from their rich food.

How many times have we read or heard in the news that a criminal who was in court had multiple previous convictions?

The system is a nice money-making machine for the legal profession. Do lawyers want mandatory sentences for 'Deco', 'Anto' and their mates?

As has been stated on many occasions, prisons should only be used for violent offenders.

These prisoners should be made work with no chance of early release.

Prisoners should cover the cost of their stay in prison. Prisons should provide a service or produce a product.

Also, instead of giving prisoners these state-of-the-art gyms, get them up at 6am and give them a bowel of porridge (mixed in water).

Afterwards, hand them a brush, a shovel or a jackhammer and send them out to work, like the chain gangs in the United States. After a hard day's work, give them a ready-packed meal.

Perhaps there should be a condition in all government-awarded civil/building projects that requires a percentage of the workforce to come from prisons.

Furthermore, non-violent offenders in prison today could provide back-up labour services for county councils, government agencies and so on.

If someone owes money regarding a civil debt or an unpaid fine, send him or her out into the community to work, with writing in bold letters on their vests stating, 'Community Service'.

They could help the elderly who are living alone. They could have helped during the severe cold spell and flooding that crippled this country last year.

They could help on future flood-relief projects.

To date, Mr Ahern's increase in the numbers on community service is a joke.

Finally, maybe Brian Cowen should move Mary Harney to the Justice Department.

If Ms Harney ran the prison system in the same way that she is running the Health Department, no criminal would ever want to return to prison.

Michael Sheridan
Oranmore, Co Galway

Irish Independent