IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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IPRT Public Opinion Poll on Attitudes towards Prison

5th April 2007

Summary of IPRT Poll Results
(more detailed results available for download above)

Preferred Initiatives to Tackle Crime

When asked which initiative they would most like to see implemented to tackle crime given a budget of €10 million, approaching 4 in 10 (37%) adults would opt for additional Gardaí. This was followed at some remove by youth workers to work with children (17%) and additional drug treatment places (15%). Only 5% chose building additional prison places as their preferred response to tackling crime.

Preferred Measures for Non-Violent Offenders

The preferred options for non-violent offenders are drug treatment for offenders with drug problems (41%), community service (39%) and mental health treatment for offenders with mental health problems (34%).

Opinions of the Penal System

Those who participated in the research agreed almost universally that mentally ill offenders should be treated in a mental health facility instead of being sent to prison (91%). Whilst 8 in 10 agreed that offenders with a drug addiction should be placed in drug recovery programmes instead of serving a prison sentence (81%).

Most respondents agreed that more people come out of prison worse than they go in (66%).

The majority (54%) disagreed with the statement 'increasing prison numbers will reduce crime'.

Just over 4 in 10 (44%) agreed that criminalising drug use causes more problems than it prevents, while 28% disagreed. Interestingly, the question of whether or not criminalising drug use causes more problems than it prevents attracted the highest level of uncertainty with 19% answering 'neither agree nor disagree' and a further 9% answering 'don't know'.

Youth Offenders

Three quarters (74%) of those interviewed were in favour of using alternatives to prison when dealing with young offenders.

Perceived Proportion of Violent Offenders Committed to Prison

There is widespread misconception amongst the public regarding the proportion of prisoners who served a sentence for a violent offence in 2005. Figures from the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2005 show that 15% of prisoners were convicted of a Group 1 or Group 2 offence.

However, the research findings show 69% of respondents overestimated the proportion of prisoners sentenced for violent offences, compared to just 4% who underestimated the proportion.