THE outgoing governor of Mountjoy Prison John Lonergan has said he does not believe Thornton Hall is the appropriate site for the new proposed prison complex.
Lonergan said projections suggest the number of inmates at Irish prisons would continue to rise and that a new facility was urgently required. But, he added, "I have mixed feelings about Thornton Hall. Mountjoy certainly needs to be replaced. But I have major issues with [Thornton Hall's] location and accessibility," he told the Sunday Tribune.
"It will be very difficult for the families of inmates to get there. There was no consultation with the families. And also, this prison is hidden away from the general public. That is never a good idea. I believe prisons should be in the open, not 'out of sight, out of mind', and hidden by trees, which Thornton Hall is."
Last week Lonergan announced his decision to retire next month, three years early, after 26 years as prison governor. The chronic overcrowding problem was leading to the US-style "warehousing" of inmates and the loss of many rehabilitative elements within jails.
"Initially, it was planned that Thornton Hall would be up and running by 2010 or 2011. I thought when I left Mountjoy the prison could shut. But that is not the way it's worked out. I had to accept it was not going to happen in my time."
He added that he was not leaving because of frustrations with the job. "I have not always enjoyed a great relationship with the Irish Prison Service. I never saw myself as part of the establishment. But I am not leaving with any gripes, I am quite content."
Three weeks ago Kathleen McMahon, governor of the Dóchas Centre, retired early. She cited the overcrowding problem and the undermining of her "impossible" position by "disrespectful" prison-service management.
She feared the Dóchas Centre was regressing towards a regime of bullying and violence. Lonergan said he was retiring because he "wanted to retire" and not out of protest.
"There was no collusion between myself and Kathleen whatsoever. I decided last year that this summer would be the last roll of the dice for me."
Lonergan blamed government inaction for the many problems rather than the IPS, which he said simply had to manage with its finite resources.
"The conditions are appalling and things will have to improve drastically. I have a liberal mindset and believe that people can be rehabilitated with the correct prison facilities."