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6 party manifestos - analysis from penal reform perspective

Here, IPRT looks at the positions of the main parties on crime and punishment issues as set out in the party manifestos, and assesses party commitments against our ten key priorities for the next government. Overall there are encouraging signs of an emerging political consensus around the need for penal reform and, in particular, the need for a reduction in the use of imprisonment for less serious offenders.

See also Liam Herrick's overview and analysis on politico.ie

Fianna Fáil Manifesto (No mention of crime or prisons)

The FF Election Manifesto 2011 “Real Plan: Better Future” does not address justice issues directly.

Fine Gael Manifesto(See 6. Crime, Justice and Drugs, pg 27)

  • A number of proposals address White Collar Crime, Policing, Judicial Reform and broad Law Reform.
  • Proposals on organised crime and drugs include reference to the role of the prisons with regard to the drug trade, and commitments to introduce x-ray scanners and mobile signal blocking technology to all prisons, and to prosecuting and cutting remission for prisoners found with mobile phones.
  • On prison policy, Fine Gael says it will “revisit the proposal to build a new prison at Thornton Hall and consider alternatives to avoid the enormous cost yet to be incurred by the state in building a new prison.”
  • Perhaps the most radical proposal is to merge the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service “to provide an end-to-end offender management system and to reduce administrative costs.”[A similar reform was put in place in the UK in recent years with mixed results.]
  • On sentencing, the FG manifesto refers to: “overhauling current sentencing practices to ensure violent criminals serve their full term in prison”. [On its own, this is somewhat ambiguous. However, in the context of very positive proposals to end short term sentences and imprisonment for fine default and debt (proposals, it must be noted, already progressed by the current government) it may be interpreted as freeing up prison spaces to be used for violent offenders.]
  • FG also proposes an end to automatic remission, linking it to good behaviour, participation in education and training and completion of treatment programmes.[In principle, incentivising engagement with services is a positive step, but problems have arisen in the UK where prisoners were not able to access services due to cutbacks. It’s also difficult to assess what impact this would have in practice as judges are currently cognisant of remissions rates when setting sentences.Moreover, there is some scepticism about the value of involuntary engagement with treatment programmes.]
  • Electronic tagging is proposed for high risk sex offenders on their release from prison to reduce the risk of reoffending.
  • There is also a welcome commitment to targeting resources to “increasing the number of needle exchange programmes and rehabilitation places across the country where it is needed most”.
  • The reference to carrying out a review of the Drug Treatment Court Programme (DTC) is somewhat non-committal, as such a review is already under way.
  • FG proposes to introduce ‘Social Investment Bonds’ (currently being piloted in the UK) "to help voluntary bodies to finance interventions that cut rates of homelessness and re-imprisonment, by re-integrating ex prisoners into society and the workforce."
  • Fine Gael’s proposals for wide-ranging public sector reform may have impact in relation to prison accountability and oversight, but nothing specific is identified in the manifesto.
  • FG has also committed to abolishing prison visiting committees, which make up 15 of the 145 quangos they intend to scrap.

Green Party Manifesto (See Safer Communities, pg 26)

The Green Party dedicates a specific section of its manifesto to Prison Reform, with very clear commitments to:

  • Establish a Working Group on Penal Reform to develop alternatives to custody.
  • Abolish plans to relocate Mountjoy to Thornton Hall and instead review options to refurbish and extend the present building. [The Greens are the only party committing to the scrapping of the Thornton Hall project.]
  • Remove children under the age of 18 from St Patrick’s Institution.
  • Legislate to place the Inspector of Prisons on a fully independent and statutory footing, explore the possibility of establishing an Ombudsman for Prisons and ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT)
  • Explore the possibility of developing an after-prison support system, with one agency coordinating fully integrated supports for accommodation, education, employment.
  • The Greens also commit to setting down a timeline for the full implementation of the Victims’ Charter and to ensuring that all Garda trainees receive comprehensive training in victims’ care and victims’ issues.

Labour Manifesto (See 13. Reforming Policing and Justice,pg 55)

The Labour Party has previously published a more detailed policy document on penal reform, which includes proposals that IPRT would broadly support. However, the manifesto differs slightly in substance:

  • While Labour propose that the prosecution should be able to make a submission to the court on the appropriate sentence, they say that this should also include drawing attention to non-incarceration options. More generally, they are proposing a Sentencing Bill which will set out aggravating and mitigating circumstances towards greater overall consistency and transparency in sentencing.
  • Increased community policing, youth justice and diversion are all named as priorities for Labour.
  • Labour commits to enshrining in law the principle of imprisonment as a penalty of last resort for non-violent offenders, along with an increased emphasis on community service orders.
  • The party commits to a greater use of open prisons for appropriate prisoners, and the expansion of the drugs court.
  • Labour also make more general commitments to address overcrowding and drug use in Ireland’s prisons.
  • There are a number of punitive proposals included under ‘strengthening the justice system’, including: post-release civil orders (such as restraints on consumption of alcohol, curfews, or restrictions on the use of the Internet by those convicted of child sex offences); a violent offenders’ register; and a proposal for “re-harmonised and extended detention periods for all violent and serious crime to avoid anomalies that now exist”. [This last proposal is somewhat vague but might be interpreted as calling for harsher sentences.]
  • Labour also addresses victims’ rights separately with reference to practical measure to address delays in the bringing of cases to trial, and a number of proposals to support victims in the trial process.

Sinn Féin Manifesto (See Local Communities Made Safe, pg 31; no mention of prison)

  • Proposals to increase the number of Gardaí and Community Gardaí on the ground, focusing on building better relationships between the community and the Gardaí.
  • Prioritises the tackling of organised crime, including a proposal to invest all monies confiscated by the Criminal Assets Bureau in those communities worst affected by crime. 
  • Sinn Féin also plans to introduce sentencing guidelines and judicial training to ensure that sentences handed down are appropriate to the crime committed and proportionate to the harm caused to the victim and the community.
  • There are no specific references to prisons issues.

United Left Alliance (Programme rather than manifesto; no mention of crime or prison)

The parties that make up the ULA have not included any specific proposals for reform on crime, sentencing or prisons in their manifesto (‘programme’).

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