Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non governmental organisation campaigning for rights in the penal system and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy.
Here IPRT presents its 10 priority directions for a fairer and more effective justice system. All of our proposals are backed up by solid evidence and research.
Smart Justice is guided by analysis of evidence, data and statistics, and does not engage in knee-jerk policy responses. Progress and reforms achieved since 2011 means that there is now a strong foundation on which to work towards a model penal system in Ireland – one that is led by innovation and not crisis-management. A clear Government commitment to evidence-informed policy, grounded in data and evidence which is made available to the public, is key.
Smart Justice recognises that prison is not the only real form of punishment. Cheaper non-custodial sanctions are proven to be more effective in addressing less serious offending, and the community benefits from the work carried out. Over-dependence on imprisonment for less serious offences also places disproportionate burden on a prison service that should instead focus its resources on more serious offenders.
Smart Justice does not put children in prison. The Government commitment in 2011 to end the detention of children at St. Patrick’s Institution has been delivered. However, the detention of children continues in Wheatfield Place of Detention, an adult prison, in direct violation of international human rights law. This must be addressed urgently – and with finality.
Smart Justice looks to the future. Young people in the transition to adulthood have the highest rates of offending and reoffending, but the highest capacity for change and desistance from offending behaviour. It is crucial that the wrong interventions do not condemn young adults to a lifetime of marginalisation and crime.
Smart Justice recognises that crowded prisons are dangerous for prisoners and staff alike, and do little to reduce reoffending. Overcrowding in prisons leads to increase violence, prevalence of drugs, and poorer outcomes. The prison population has been safely reduced by 10% since a peak in chronic overcrowding in 2011. This trend must be continued over the next five years, so that the Irish Prison Service can direct maximum resources towards addressing serious offending behaviour.
Smart Justice makes sure that prison does not cultivate more serious problems for the future. Imprisonment by its nature exacerbates mental and physical health issues, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has found that the health-care service in some Irish prisons is in “a state of crisis”. Failure to deal appropriately with mental health and addictions makes prisons unsafe for staff and prisoners alike. An effective prison healthcare service, which is capable of meeting the wide range of physical and mental health needs in prison, is urgently required.
Smart Justice knows that inhumane prison conditions do not support rehabilitation or desistance from offending. Despite marked improvements since 2011, conditions and regimes in some prisons remain in clear violation of basic human rights standards, exposing Ireland to legal challenge at domestic and European level.
Smart Justice is fully accountable to the general public. Public confidence in the effectiveness of the prison system demands transparency and accountability. Independent oversight is crucial to ensuring human rights abuses do not occur out of sight behind prison walls, and the safety of prisoners and staff is strengthened through trusted complaints mechanisms, which reduce tension on prison landings.
Smart Justice ensures that time spent in prison is useful. From the first day of a prisoner’s sentence, he or she should be working with the prison service towards their preparation for release. More transparent and accountable structures of release decision-making will bolster prisoners’ confidence in their engagement with prison services, treatments and regimes. Facilitating family and prisoner relationships plays a key role in reducing recidivism, and helps break inter-generational cycles of crime and imprisonment.
Smart Justice knows that for every prisoner who does not reoffend on release from prison, there is one fewer victim in the community. It is in everybody’s interest that rehabilitation services and supports are prioritised and adequately resourced. Inter-agency co-operation between prisons, probation, health, mental health, housing and and social welfare services is key to the safe and successful reintegration of people back into the community.