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The need for Thornton Hall?

21 May 2008

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: I ask the Leader for a debate on imprisonment, specifically the imprisonment of women. In a week when Thornton Hall is in the news, it is time for us to take a critical review of the need for imprisonment and, in particular, the need for this super prison initially proposed by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell.

This prison seems to be forging ahead without anyone questioning whether we need these places. I was going to use the “L” word but I hesitate to use it, other Members of the House having fallen into problems, so I will say that misinformation rather than lies have been told about the need for more prison places in this country. The reality elsewhere shows us that if one builds bigger prisons, judges and sentences will fill them with people. This is the sad reality and we need to reappraise whether we need this many prisons, especially for women.

This week, we are fortunate to receive a visit from Baroness Jean Corston from the British House of Lords who produced a very radical report last year on women in prison and who recommended, after a very thorough review, that prison places for women should essentially be abolished and that there should just be a small number of small detention units for women. Otherwise, alternative sanctions should be used. We could very much learn from the lessons of that report.

I am happy to say that Baroness Corston will be visiting Leinster House on Thursday. Deputy Mary O'Rourke and I are hosting a meeting with her for all women Members of the Oireachtas. I am sorry that we cannot invite any male colleagues interested in this issue to the briefing with Baroness Corston.

I would be happy to meet them to discuss the issues at another time.

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice will also host a seminar on Thursday evening on the future of women's imprisonment. This is an issue which we could very usefully debate in this House and could lead the way in calling for a critical review of women's imprisonment, as Baroness Corston has done in Great Britain.