IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Putting Prison in its Place

5th November 2005

This address, given to the Annual Conference of the Irish Association for the Study of Delinquency, argues that the building of Thornton Hall prison is "at odds with the requirements of necessity, parsimony and proportionality ... and reinforces the idea of prison as the centre of the penal system rather than challenging this view on the basis of economy, efficiency and effectiveness..." (Prof Ian O'Donnell). 

Prof O'Donnell analyses the statistics relating to the rise of the average daily prison inmate numbers and gives a view on why this rise has occurred. He argues that imprisonment should be a method of last resort, and recommends that (1) community penalties should be viewed as the norm with prison as an occasional alternative; and (2) judges should be required to consider and rule out all other options before imposing a prison sentence and to give a written reason justifying prison when it is imposed. 

In relation to Thornton Hall, he opines that large prisons are inappropriate, given the implications for human rights of the necessity for life in large prisons to be highly regimented, and the difficulties created for visiting families of large distant prisons.

Prof O'Donnell suggests, instead, the essential elements which should form the basis of any rational strategy for prison reform.