9th February 2004
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has criticised Government proposals to privatise the prison escort service, stating that a 2002 report produced by the Department of Justice found that "privatisation of prisoner escorts is not a viable option". This privatisation proposal is contained in the draft "Scheme of new Prison Bill" released by Minister McDowell last week.
In July 2002, the Department of Justice's Prison Service Staffing & Operations Review Team (SORT) released a report on the prison escort service, with a view to improving efficiencies and reducing overtime costs. 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 new draft bill released last week defies recommendations made by the Minster's own experts less than two years ago," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "This calls into question the whole basis of the proposal, and leads us to again ask 'Minister, where's the evidence?'"
According to SORT, "[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."
The IPRT expressed further concern at the Minister's admission (in answer to Parliamentary Questions, 10/22) that his Department is unable to "comprehensively identify[y]" the current cost of the escort service nor provide assurances that a privatised service would result in cost savings. Most troubling for the IPRT is the Minister's admission that "no detailed research was undertaken into the experience of privatised prisoner transport in other jurisdictions."
Said Mr. Lines, "How can the Minister promise significant cost savings from a privatised escort scheme when his Department cannot itself identify with any certainty the cost of the current system, and when his own experts found that claims of cost savings could not rightfully be made? How can he claim that a privatised scheme will be more efficient when he admits having done no research into existing schemes in other jurisdictions? Given these admissions, and with no evidence to the contrary being provided by the Minister, it would seem that this is a case of public policy being made on the back of an envelope."