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“Build better communities not bigger prisons” – IPRT, Barnardos and IAYPIC

23rd September 2010


If it is really serious about tackling crime, Government should commit to investing in prevention and early intervention strategies; all the evidence demonstrates that this makes far more social and economic sense than throwing increasing amounts of scarce resources at an expanding and ineffective penal system. This is the core message in a new policy document launched by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Barnardos and IAYPIC (Irish Association of Young People in Care) at the Shifting Focus: From Criminal Justice to Social Justice conference which took place today in Dublin.

Informed by a shared commitment to combating social injustice and to building safer communities, IPRT, Barnardos and IAYPIC have come together to call for a shift in focus and resources to addressing the marginalisation associated with offending behaviour.

Speaking at the launch, Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

Today we are calling for a radical shift in how we respond to crime, moving away from an approach centred on punishment to one which is centred on evidence-led strategies to preventing offending in the first place.

We know the risk factors that lead to offending: poverty, unemployment, poor mental health, educational disadvantage, addictions, inadequate family support and experience of residential care and homelessness. Instead of dealing with these issues by throwing people in prison – and throwing increasing amounts of taxpayers’ money at a prison system that is not working – we should be investing in communities and in tackling the social problems that increase the risk of people coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.

The good news from Irish and international research is that such a shift in dealing with crime at its root causes will not only be more effective, but it will also be cheaper and will contribute to tackling social injustice and building better communities.

Norah Gibbons, Director of Advocacy, Barnardos, said:

While some evaluated prevention and early intervention programmes are currently being run in Ireland, much more is needed if we are to develop a “joined-up” approach to social exclusion and make our communities better and safer for everyone. It is clear from this research and from our work in the community that significant gaps exist in services for children and young people which can expose them to risks of being drawn in to offending behaviour. These gaps present opportunities for intervention and investment that will pay huge societal dividends in the future.

Government must adopt a more cohesive approach to tackling inequalities in access to health, education and protection services for children living in disadvantage. The development and provision of ongoing, consistent and holistic child and family support services is crucial to ensuring better outcomes for children. Timely access to the necessary supports can make all the difference to children’s lives and their future opportunities.

Too many children are left to cope with difficulties on their own for too long, affecting every aspect of their lives and condemning them to intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and poverty. A prevention and early intervention model of service delivery is long overdue in this country; if Government is serious about creating better futures for Irish children, a shift in focus is urgently needed.

Jennifer Gargan, Director of IAYPIC, added:

Educational disadvantage access to addiction services and supports, and supports for children and families in the care system are key starting points in addressing the problems facing children and young people at high risk. We must intervene before their problems escalate to serious levels.

Young people leaving care are more likely to experience homelessness, addictions, unemployment, mental health issues and the criminal justice system. There should be a statutory provision for aftercare services for these young people to reduce these risk factors, and to ensure they get the same life chances as their peers in the general population.

On the launch of the Shifting Focus: From Criminal Justice to Social Justice policy document and supporting research report, IPRT, Barnardos and IAYPIC are calling on the Government to:

  • commit to an integrated criminal justice policy, which recognises that crime prevention must be seen within the wider context of addressing the underlying causes of crime and social exclusion.
  • commit to diverting a proportion of the justice budget to interventions that address the causes of social exclusion, including, but not limited to, the areas of education, health, mental health and substance misuse.
  • commit to evidence-based policies which focus on building safer and stronger communities, with particular emphasis on prevention and early intervention with regard to social exclusion and its consequences.
  • invest in rigorous, independent and long term analyses of the effectiveness of prevention, early intervention and diversionary programmes and to rolling out proven best-practice models on a national basis.
  • commit to expediting implementation of the recommendations in related areas, including “A Vision for Change” Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, the National Drugs Strategy (interim) 2009-2016, and the Ryan Implementation Plan, according to Government’s own set timetables.

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust
T: + 353 1 874 1400 E: communications@iprt.ie


  1. Shifting Focus - Conference
    Shifting Focus: From Criminal Justice to Social Justice was a 1-day conference which took place on Thursday 23rd Sept, 2010 in the Gresham Hotel, O’Connell St, Dublin 1. The conference brought together experts and practitioners to explore the latest research and evidence which demonstrates that prevention and early intervention strategies make more social and economic sense than throwing increasing amounts of scarce resources at an expanding and ineffective penal system. For the conference programme, and information about speakers’ please see here.
  2. Shifting Focus - Policy DocumentThe conference was supported by a joint policy document by the three organisations: Shifting Focus: From Criminal Justice to Social Justice – Building Better and Safer Communities makes a number of key calls to Government for an overarching strategy, plus specific calls in key related areas. The policy document is available here: www.iprt.ie/shifting-focus  
  3. Shifting Focus - Research ReportIn October 2009, IPRT, Barnardos and IAYPIC commissioned a review of international evidence and best practice on prevention and early intervention strategies to support our joint policy work. From Justice to Welfare: The Case for Investment in Early Intervention and Prevention by Candy Murphy, CMAdvice Ltd. is available here: www.iprt.ie/shifting-focus
  4. Key Figures from Abroad- The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has found that investing just $600 in providing early childhood education to the most disadvantaged communities saves society on average $15,000 per child in lower future crime rates.
    - In the UK, the cross-party Home Affairs Committee report, The Government’s Approach to Crime Prevention, found that while the average cost to the taxpayer of having a young person in the criminal justice system is £200,000 by the age of 16, less than £50,000 is needed to support a young person to stay out of the system.
  5. Irish Penal Reform Trust | www.iprt.ieThe Irish Penal Reform Trust is Ireland’s leading NGO campaigning for the rights of everyone in the penal system. We campaign for the use of detention as a last resort and for the progressive reform of penal policy in Ireland. IPRT has long argued that prisoners cannot be treated in isolation from the communities from which they come and to which they return, and that penal policy must be connected up to relevant policies in the health and social sphere.
  6. Barnardos | www.barnardos.ieBarnardos' vision is an Ireland where childhood is valued and all children and young people are cherished equally. Barnardos' mission is to challenge and support families, communities, society and government to make Ireland the best place in the world to be a child, focusing specifically on children and young people whose well-being is under threat. Barnardos has over 42 projects working directly with children and families throughout the country.
  7. Irish Association of Young People in Care | www.iapypic.org IAYPIC is an independent association that works with children and young people who are currently in care or have experience of living in care. IAYPIC’s mission is to: advocate at a national and local level for the rights of young people with care experience; organise and amplify the voices of young people with care experience; and to base our advocacy on meaningful engagement with young people, documented data and commissioned research.