A new report published today urges the Government to expand the use of community sanctions as an alternative to incarceration.
Written by Dr. Mairead Seymour and commissioned by Business in the Commity Ireland in association with the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), the report concludes there is a wide scope for reducing expenditure on prisons by learning from the success in other jurisdictions of implementing non-custodial sentences.
"The purpose of this report is to examine international best practice in the area of non-custodial sanctions, and to determine what we might learn from that evidence in developing our own policy responses here in Ireland," said Claire Hamilton, Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, who supervised the research.
"In comparison with our European neighbours, Ireland drastically overuses prison as a response to offending. Given the significant cost of incarceration, and the fact that most people sent to prison each year are for non-violent offences and short sentences, there is a strong case for diverting a large majority of offenders each year away from prison."
Among the Report's recommendations are:
- Introduce a requirement in legislation that, save for exceptional circumstances, offenders sentenced to one year or less be diverted away from prisons and into a community based sanction as a first option
- Develop written guidelines around community sanctions to ensure equity and consistency in sentencing
- Provide a statutory framework for community sanctions
- Enhance funding to the Probation and Welfare Service to enable it to increase community supervision of offenders
- Avoid electronic tagging, as the evidence shows it to be an ineffective and expensive programme
"Over 80% of committals each year are for sentences of one year or less, which clearly illustrates Ireland's potential to significantly reduce our use of, and expenditure on, prisons though appropriate community sanctions," said Rick Lines, Executive Director of the IPRT. "Unfortunately, this potential is under-appreciated, under-funded and under-developed."
"Before the Government rushes into a massive, ill-considered and expensive prison expansion programme, we believe there should be a real debate about the sensible alternatives that exist to meet Ireland's needs," said Mr. Lines.
Alternatives to Custody in Ireland by Dr. Mairead Seymour was produced with the generous support of the Cyril Forbes Fund.