Prison plan is all wrong

HOW I wish I had something to sell to the Government. My car is worth about €4,000. If I offered it to the Government they would probably give me €10,000 or even €20,000.

Michael McDowell has just paid out €30m for 150 acres to build a new prison in North County Dublin. That’s €200,000 an acre. But comercial property in the area is selling for around €40,000. A nice little premium by any standards.

McDowell’s explanation for this largesse is that this land price was the only one offered to him. I thought that’s what compulsory purchase orders were for. It’s just another example of this Government having no problem spending taxpayer’s money in order to make the rich even richer (witness Farmleigh and the Westlink).

But not only is this an expensive plan – it’s the wrong expensive plan.

About a quarter of Mountjoy’s prison population is on a methadone treatment programme. Would it be a great big leap to assume that their drug problems are part of the reason that they are in jail? Would it not make a lot more sense to spend money trying to help these people to shake their drugs habits than spending the money to build a new prison to accommodate their next offence? Nobody gains from this vicious circle: victim, perpetrator or taxpayer.

McDowell, the great liberal in opposition, is now aiming to increase prison places by up to 1,000, giving Ireland one of the highest incarceration rates for one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

Over 80% of people sent to prison in Ireland are not violent, yet it costs over €80,000 a year to keep someone behind bars. Meanwhile, drug rehab failities, RAPID area projects, restorative justice projects and other work that could make an impact on prison numbers are starved of funding.

There’s always money for people with property and never any those who need it most.

Build ‘em up – knock ‘em down

The new Mountjoy Women’s Prison, the Dochas Centre, was opened barely five years ago at a cost of €17m.

Now it’s to be demolished within a couple of years. Does this make any sense? The Sandyford Luas line which was opened, like, yesterday, is due to be ripped up and replaced with a metro.

I wish those in charge make their minds up before they blow our money on their pet weekend projects.

What about the old Mountjoy?

The plan is to put the Mountjoy prison site up for sale around 2009.

And who do you think is going to buy it? Will it be someone whose heart is mostly concerned with the interests of the area and Dublin in general or will it be someone whose heart is mostly concerned with their own interests?

The City Council should get their zoning maps out now. This is a major site very close to the city centre and we all have a vested interest it. It shouldn’t just be sold off to the highest bidder.