IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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IPRT welcomes Minister's Announcement on Alternatives to Prison

18th October 2010

MEDIA ADVISORY

Ireland’s leading penal reform campaigners have today welcomed Minister Ahern’s announcement that forthcoming legislation will require judges to consider community service sanctions as an alternative to imprisonment for minor offences.

 The Irish Penal Reform Trust has long been calling for a review of sentencing practice in Ireland, which sees very high numbers of short custodial sentences handed out for less serious offences. Non-custodial sanctions, such as community service orders, are proven to be more cost-effective responses to more minor offences, resulting in lower reoffending rates and demonstrable payback to the community.

Speaking today, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of IPRT said:

“IPRT’s core message is that imprisonment should only be reserved for the most serious offences and for those offenders who present an ongoing risk to society. Therefore, we very much welcome today’s announcement by the Minister about what we hope will be a presumption against imprisonment for minor offences. Although we need to know more about the details, this looks to be a very positive and progressive step, and is in line with international recognition that short sentences do more harm than good.”

“IPRT believes that to remove or restrict the sanction of custodial sentences from the District Court level would be a straightforward way to put this in practice. A shocking 70% of sentenced committals in 2009 were for sentences of 6 months or less, which is not only contributing to the chronic overcrowding in Irish prisons but is also disproportionately damaging to families and communities. Community sanctions are less costly, more effective, and of far greater benefit to society.”

The Minister was speaking at the opening of the new block at Wheatfield Prison. While IPRT is strongly against any further expansion of the national capacity of the Irish prison system, the upgrading of current ill-suited prison accommodation through the provision of modern, well-equipped facilities, with in-cell sanitation, is very much to be welcomed.

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 1400E: communications@iprt.ie

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Figures:

  • 70% of sentenced committals in 2009 were for sentences of 6 months or less.
  • Committals under sentence of 3 months or less increased by almost 63% on 2008 figures, from 3,526 to 5,750.
  • There were 3,601 sentenced committals for road traffic offences in 2009, representing 33.1% of the total, an increase of 59% on 2008; 71.7% of sentenced committals for road traffic offences in 2009 were for 3 months or less.
  • 20.8% of sentenced committals in 2009 were for offences against property without violence.
  • There was an increase of 90.7% in committals for non-payment of court ordered fines in 2009, with a total of 4,806 figures.
  • In 2009, 162 people were imprisoned in relation to the non-payment of a civil debt.

Source: Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2009

2. Prison governor survey (UK) - short prison sentences don’t reform, don’t reduce crime and are used excessively  

A survey carried out by the Howard League for Penal Reform in October 2010 among prison governors in the UK found that 81% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that short prison sentences serve to reform and rehabilitate the offender. For more details, see: http://www.howardleague.org/fileadmin/howard_league/user/pdf/Research/The_reality_of_short_term_prison_sentences_-_press.pdf

3. IPRT Position Paper on Community Sanctions:

IPRT made the case for an increased use of community-based sanctions in Ireland to replace the use of imprisonment in the IPRT Position Paper 8: Community Sanctions, published Feb 2010. See: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/1555

4. Value for Money and Policy Review of the Community Service Scheme

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform/The Probation Service “Value for Money and Policy Review of the Community Service Scheme” was published in Oct 2009: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB09000158