23rd October 2003
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today questioned why Justice Minister Michael McDowell is still actively considering the privatisation of prisoner escorts when a report produced by his own Department found that "privatisation of prisoner escorts is not a viable option at this point in time."
A report in today's Irish Examiner highlights recommendations made by the Department of Justice's Prison Service Staffing & Operations Review Team (SORT) in a July 2002 report on prison escorts. The report found that given the current disorganisation in the escort service, it was not reasonable to conclude that privatisation would necessarily be cheaper or more efficient than a restructured escort service maintained in the public sector. Rather than privatisation, SORT recommended that a centrally managed escort system be created and run within the public service.
"The Minister has made it abundantly clear that the privatisation of prisoner escorts is under serious consideration, yet his Department's own experts recommended against this option only one year ago," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "This report calls into question the whole basis of the Minister's plan as it shatters the myth that 'private' is necessarily cheaper and more efficient than 'public'."
According to the SORT report, "[I]t would not be appropriate to privatise the service at a time when it is not operating efficiently as this would militate negatively against the level of efficiencies and cost savings that could reasonably be expected to be achieved in the normal course. In other words, steps should be taken to introduce 'best practice' to the point where it is providing the most efficient and effective service possible within the resources available, thereby creating a level playing field vis a vis the private sector."
"Minister McDowell is right to tackle the issue of staffing levels and overtime. Indeed this is a problem the IPRT and others have highlighted for years," said Mr. Lines. "The POA must also be clear that the current status quo is not sustainable, and must show through their actions that they are willing to implement change. However, policy change must be based upon evidence, not on assumption or ideology. The IPRT continues to ask, 'Where is the evidence that privatisation offers a solution to the current problems in the prison system?' It is clearly not to be found in this report."