The Department of Justice announced last night that Thornton Hall will now not go ahead as planned.
The plans for Thornton Hall represent some of the most frustrating emanations of penal policy-making in Ireland.
When plans for the new prison were first mooted, the financial situation of the country was much brighter. The solution for everything seemed to be ‘more money’. The penal system was no different.
Such a lack of imagination led to the purchase of a site for enormous sums which for a time seemed to be held up as the answer to all problems within the prison system. ‘Wait for Thornton Hall’ was a useful holding position.
This failure of imagination is now coming home to roost. Instead of innovating alternatives to prison and thinking about prison building on a smaller, more localised scale, Thornton seemed to monopolise the energies of both policy makers and penal reformers alike.
Now we have neither a new prison, with the accompanying vital improvement in conditions, nor a system of credible alternatives.
This time represents an opportunity for new thinking and a reimagination both of how we make penal policy in Ireland, but also how we deal with those who have broken the criminal law generally. Without the luxury of money, we will have to be a lot smarter and more creative in our responses to offending.
Finances have dicated the course of Irish prison policy for decades. The tragedy now is that, even after a decade of unprecendented prosperity, the legacy in the penal system is an overgrown field in North Dublin and a Mountjoy more overcrowded than ever before.
Is that a satisfactory result for anyone?