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IPRT welcomes party policy commitment to penal reform and imprisonment as a last resort

11th January 2011


The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign organisation welcomes the clear commitment to penal reform and imprisonment as a last resort included in the Labour Penal Reform Policy Document, which was launched today. IPRT believes this policy statement forms part of a growing consensus across parties and agencies that our system of punishing crime is in need of radical overhaul and that a programme of penal reform is now both necessary and achievable.

In particular, IPRT welcomes:

  • the commitment to enshrine in legislation the principle of imprisonment as a last resort by way of a proposed Sentencing Act
  • the emphasis on increased accountability, to include an independent complaints mechanism for prisoners and the extension of the Ombudsman for Children’s Office remit to receive complaints from children held in St Patrick’s Institution
  • proposals to extend successful initiatives such as youth diversion programmes, restorative justice projects and other court diversion schemes, including the drugs courts and mental health in-reach programmes
  • practical, cost-sensitive proposals to increase the provision of open prisons and the use of community service as an alternative to prison

The policy emphasis on youth justice is particularly welcome, including commitments to: build upon progresses made in youth diversion and case management; extend the Ombudsman for Children’s Office remit; and end the imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution. Medical, psychological, and sociological research all shows that children under 18 have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults who commit similar crimes – this makes it all the more crucial that ending the imprisonment of children in St. Patrick’s Institution must be a priority.  In this context, IPRT is now calling on all parties to commit in their manifestos to prioritising the building of the new National Children Detention Facility at Oberstown, Lusk as a matter of urgency.

Welcoming the policy document today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“It is clear that a sea-change is underway in looking at how we tackle crime, with the wide recognition that the recent dramatic expansion of our prison system has not made society safer. Instead we need to focus resources on prevention and early intervention strategies, which are proven to be cheaper and more effective in the long run.

“In the run up to the general election, we need to ask our politicians the right questions: is it our goal to increase the size of our prison system and lock more people away or to make society safer for everyone? In committing to policies based on imprisonment as a last resort and the respect for the human rights of everyone, including victims, IPRT believes the right steps are being taken towards creating better and safer communities.

“However, we need a more clear statement on the future of Thornton Hall. We continue to have serious misgivings about the viability of that project in the context of scarce resources and of the urgent need to refurbish the existing prison estate, alongside the completion of the new National Children Detention Facility. It is imperative that we bring an end to the imprisonment of boys at St Patrick’s at the earliest opportunity. Even if the new facility is completed by mid-2013, in the intervening years hundreds of children will have had the negative and damaging experience of detention in St. Patrick’s Institution – and a crucial opportunity to save another generation will have been lost.”

For all media enquiries, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust

T: + 353 1 874 1400        E: communications@iprt.ie


1. Figures

  • Around 220 sixteen and seventeen year old boys pass through St. Patrick’s Institution every year. (Source: Irish Prison Service Annual Reports)
  • On 10th December 2010, there were 38 boys in St Patrick’s Institution: 6 sixteen-year olds; 32 seventeen-year olds. (Source: Irish Prison Service)
  • The Inspector of Prisons has clearly stated that “every effort should be made to expedite the transfer of these juveniles to the Oberstown Complex”. (Source: The Irish Prison Population - an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners, 2010)
  • On 7th December 2010, there were 45 boys and young men on 23-hour lock-up (for reasons of protection) in St Patrick’s Institution. (Source: Dáil Question, 8th December 2010: )

2. National Children Detention Facility, Lusk, Co. Dublin

With a 24% cut to the IYJS budget in 2011, IPRT is highly concerned that the new National Children Detention Facility on the Oberstown campus at Lusk, Co. Dublin will now not progress as planned. Moreover, the 24% overall cut includes a dramatic reduction in capital spend from €8.229m in 2010 down to just €500,000 in 2011. The Minister for Justice recently stated that the project will progress in 2011; however, there has been no update on the expected completion date for the first phase. (See: Dept of Justice Press Release, 7th December 2010)

3. Detention of Children in St Patrick’s Institution – Briefing

IPRT has outlined our serious concerns about the ongoing detention of children in St Patrick’s Institution, which is in breach of human rights standards, in a short Briefing.

4. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)

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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