Concerns at plans for ‘open prison’

The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, is considering using the 60-house Beladd Park complex as a step down facility for the phased re-integration of offenders into society.

Concern over the future use of the former prison officer estate is rife in Portlaoise as the transfer of prisoners from the Curragh to the Midlands Prison was effected last Monday and Tuesday. The 90 inmates, mostly elderly sex offenders, were moved to the segregation area of the prison, along with staff from the Curragh.

“The future of Beladd Park will be considered as part of any future plans for the Midlands Prison,” a spokesperson for the Irish Prison Services said yesterday. “No decision has been taken yet as to what use it will be put to.”

Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald confirmed, however, that the Justice Minister is considering using Beladd as a step down facility. “I am horrified that Minister McDowell is considering this,” she said.

“It is a totally unsuitable location for such an ‘open prison’. This would be the first time such a facility would be located in a town. The Minister should not be experimenting with something that could have harmful effects on the people of Portlaoise,” she stated.

Last December it was revealed that plans were afoot for the erection of a 5.2 metre high security perimeter fence around the estate.

Speaking in a visit to Portarlington last May, Minister McDowell suggested that the complex could be used for training facilities, halfway houses, or a semi-open custodial institution like the Women’s Prison in Dublin.

Cllr Brian Stanley has called on Minister McDowell to come out of hiding and answer questions regarding the future of Beladd Park.

“These prisoners from the Curragh are now housed adjacent to the 60 houses,” he noted.

“Minister McDowell and the management of the Prison Services recently ordered that a five and a half metre high security fence be constructed around Beladd Park along with a wall and service gate at the front. How much is this costing?” he asked.

“Does Michael McDowell expect the people of Portlaoise to believe that such extensive works would be allowed to proceed without himself and his senior officials having made some decision on the future of the 60 houses?”

The closure of the Curragh last Monday is part of Minister McDowell’s cost cutting plan to reduce costs in his ongoing dispute with the Prison Officers Association (POA) over the issue of overtime pay. Fort Mitchell at Spike Island is due to close at the end of this month.

Vice-president of the POA, Gerry Wilson, said: “It will cause a lot of problems and disruption in the Midlands Prison.”


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