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IPRT calls on Government to Rethink Plans to Double Capacity in Women's Prisons

11th October 2010

MEDIA ADVISORY

Current prison-building plans for 70 additional spaces at the Dóchas Centre, with 14 new spaces shortly coming on stream in Limerick female prison, will mean the national capacity for women prisoners has doubled in less than 2 years. Such expansion is ill-conceived and will only compound the lasting damage to families and communities of sending increasing numbers of women to prison, according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

Rather than seeking to address the causes of the increase in the women’s prison population, Government response is to add more accommodation. Current plans for the Dóchas Centre will see the capacity of the women’s prison more than double from a design capacity of 85 to a bed capacity of 175 by the end of 2010. Limerick women’s prison is also set to increase its bed capacity from 20 to 34 through the opening of 14 re-commissioned cells. While IPRT welcomes plans to create four new workshop places at Dóchas Centre, proposals to accommodate women in larger cells of up to 4 prisoners is regressive, and a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Rather than taking the same reactive approach to the current pressure of numbers, IPRT is calling on Government to tackle chronic overcrowding at Ireland’s two female prisons through:

  • An urgent review of sentencing practices, which see high numbers of women receive custodial sentences for less-serious and non-violent crimes
  • The wider use of gender-specific alternatives to custody, including provision of an open-prison type regime for women
  • Increased support services in the community to address the complex issues and multiple needs of many women offenders (including mental health issues and substance addictions) without breaking links with women’s families.

Speaking today, Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“Women offenders generally present a lower risk to society, and yet higher numbers are sent to prison for non-violent offences. Ireland simply cannot afford the social and economic costs of sending increasing numbers of women to prison, when even a short period of imprisonment can have a profound negative impact on families and communities, particularly in breaking the relationship between mothers and their children.

“IPRT and our colleagues in the Women in Prison Reform Alliance believe that alternatives to the imprisonment of low-risk female offenders can be identified. To this end, we submitted a proposal to Minister Ahern in Dec 2009 calling for an urgent review of the use of imprisonment for women offenders. We believe that focussing on sentencing law and the practices of courts, in particular at District Court level, would address the current overcrowding problem, as well as paving the way for cheaper and more effective community solutions to low-level crime. 

“Instead of exacerbating the problem through increasing the numbers of women being sent to prison, the current overcrowding crisis should create the political impetus to seek out better options for low-risk women offenders.”

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

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

  1. Current figures: On 10th October 2010, there were 140 women in custody in the Dóchas women’s prison, which was designed to hold 85 (current bed capacity, through addition of bunk beds, is 105), and 28 in Limerick female prison, designed to hold 10 (current bed capacity 20).
  2. Minister Ahern announced that 70 new spaces for female prisoners will be built on the Mountjoy site in a Dáil Question on 30th Sept 2010: http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2010-09-30.1462.0&s=prison#g1464.0.r
  3. The percentage of women in the prison population is rising. Female prisoners made up 11.8% of total prison committals in 2009. In 2008, this figure was 11.2%; in 2002 it was 10.7%.
  4.  The CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) visited Limerick female prison as part of its periodic visit in Jan/Feb 2010; a targeted visit was also made to the Dóchas Centre to examine care afforded to prisoners with a mental health disorder. The CPT report is due to be published, along with the Government’s response, in January 2011.
  5. The ACJRD will host its annual conference on the theme Women in the Criminal Justice System this Friday, 15th October 2010. Full details can be accessed here: http://www.acjrd.ie/contents/56 
  6. The Women in Prison Reform Alliance (WPRA) is made up of a number of organisations and individuals concerned with women’s rights and the rights of prisoners; members of the alliance include IPRT, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Mercy Justice Office, Dominican Justice Office and Dr Christina Quinlan.
  7. In December 2009, the WPRA submitted a proposal to the Minister for Justice and Law Reform for a Government commissioned, independent review of policy and practice in relation to women who come into the criminal justice system. This review should focus particularly on examining the current use of imprisonment for women, and exploring the scope for extending the range and utilisation of non-custodial alternatives.
  8. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. For more information, please visit: www.iprt.ie
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