Ireland systematically overuses imprisonment as punishment. While the average prison population on any given day in Ireland is close to the European average, the rates of committal to prison on sentence – the ‘flow’ of prisoners through the system – means that Ireland is one of the most punitive criminal justice systems in Europe.
Additionally, the majority of people are sent to prison for short term sentences, often for less than 6 months. Significant numbers of those who are sent to prison are committed there for non-violent offences such as fine default. Irish prisons are chronically overcrowded, and many prisoners who are sent to prison could be dealt with using non-custodial means.
IPRT believes that the best way of limiting the use of imprisonment in Ireland is the development of an integrated system of alternatives to custody. Alternatives to custody could include the wider use of suspended sentences, community service orders, etc.
Recent positive developments include the passing Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Act 2011, commenced in October 2011.However, statistics revealed in the 2012 annual reports of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service indicate that the legislation has so far not had the desired impact on reducing the use of imprisonment for less serious offences.
IPRT continues to work towards the re-positioning of the criminal justice system in Ireland in favour of alternatives to custody, with the sanction of imprisonment imposed as last resort.