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The greenfield site at Thornton Hall cost the state some €30m in 2005 - but will now only ever house 500 prisoners. Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
Thornton Hall

Independent review recommends scaling down Thornton Hall plans

Alan Shatter says the government accepts, in principle, the recommendations to build only a 300-cell facility.

Updated, July 29, 10.06

THE NEW PRISON to be built at Thornton Hall in north county Dublin – which was originally planned to house 2,200 prisoners – will now be built to accommodate just 500 people.

The government has accepted the recommendation of an independent review group which says the new facility should only contain 300 cells, a significant downscale of the 1,400-cell facility originally planned.

The report from the Thornton Hall Review Group, which was formed in early April, was published by the Department of Justice this lunchtime. In a statement, Shatter said the government had approved its recommendations in principle.

The intention of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat government which bought the site in 2005 was that the new facility would allow for the eventual closure of Dublin’s main prison at Mountjoy.

The plan also suggests that a new 200-cell prison be built at Kilworth in Co Cork, with the prison on Cork’s north inner city being closed “at the earliest possible opportunity”.

The review group also recommends that both facilities be built with ‘step-down accommodation’, which effectively provides for an open centre with a secure perimeter.

Shatter said this proposal would “enable prison authorities  to  give  greater  operational  effect  to  the  ‘principle of progression’  in  the penal system.

The proposed prison complexes will  allow the prison authorities to create incentivised prison regimes to allow  offenders  progress  through  the  system  in a way that helps their eventual  reintegration  into  society. ”

The minister added that he agreed with the group’s statement that building new prisons was not the sole way of tackling prison overcrowding, but that other strategies should also be used.

A decision on the timeframe for building the two new facilities will be made in the autumn when the government decides its capital spending priorities for 2012.

As of last Friday there were 5,479 people in the prison system, though 612 were on temporary release due to overcrowding alone.

The purchase of the Thornton Hall site caused great controversy at the time, when the government paid around €30m for the plot – considered significantly above the market price at the time.

A 190-acre farm in Ratoath, just a few miles away from the proposed prison site, was sold for €6.2m just two months later.

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