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Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



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Prison Service Journal, May 2013.


The catastrophic collapse in the once booming Irish economy has led to swingeing budgets, huge falls in property prices, rising unemployment, cut backs in public services, and the ignominy of a bailout financed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank. As has been the case for all aspects of public expenditure, prison policy-makers are now regularly using the language of efficiency and value for money when discussing plans for Ireland’s prisons. The state’s current economic woes are having some interesting effects on the direction of prison policy. Plans are afoot to reduce the prison population, after decades of growth, and despite the straitened financial circumstances, investment is forthcoming for the improvement of long-neglected prison conditions. Perhaps reflecting the public mood concerning the causes of recession, the sentencing of fraud offences is becoming more high profile, and, it appears, more harsh.

This article examines the effect of the current recession on Irish prison policy. To do so, it explores the ways in which previous times of economic crisis played out in Irish prisons. It assesses the impact of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years of economic growth on prison policy before examining how current austerity policies are affecting the numbers in prisons, prison conditions, and sentencing.