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Ebulletin #63

21st April 2011

In this edition:

  1. Introduction
  2. Programme for Government
  3. Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment) No.2 Bill
  4. Upcoming Event: Beyond the Record – Spent Convictions & Discrimination
  5. Review of Thornton Hall
  6. Inspector of Prisons: Report on an Inspection of Mountjoy Prison
  7. IPRT submission to the UN Committee Against Torture
  8. IPRT in the News
  9. MA in Criminology at DIT
  10. Upcoming Events

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1. Introduction

Welcome to our second ebulletin of 2011! It’s been a busy few months since our last ebulletin with the election of a new Government, the appointment of a new Minister for Justice, Mr. Alan Shatter and some exciting reform issues. So far there are positive signs that the new Government will make changes within the penal system. Already the Dáil has debated the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) No.2 Bill, and that the Spent Convictions Bill is back on the agenda and will be published before the end of the summer is also very welcome.

On that note, IPRT will be holding a public forum on focusing on obstacles experienced by those with criminal records who are trying to move on with their lives. Bobby Cummines OBE FRSA of UNLOCK in the UK will be among the guest speakers. ‘Beyond the Barriers’ takes place on Tuesday 10th May, from 5-6.30pm in Dublin city-centre (venue tbc.)

At the beginning of the new Dáil, IPRT contacted all new member TDs to make them aware of our work. Since then, we have had positive feedback from a number of TDs, including an invitation to present to the members of the United Left Alliance. We look forward to further developing positive links with all parties in the future, and hopefully working with them to encourage debate and awareness around prison reform and wider penal issues.

Our policy officer, Jane Mulcahy has been busy with the UN Committee against Torture report which is due to be published shortly. The report is a joint venture between IPRT and the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) and highlights breaches in human rights, specifically regarding torture and inhumane or degrading treatment in Ireland. The Your Rights, Right Now Universal Periodic Review report was launched on 19th April; IPRT was one of 17 organisations who signed up to the campaign, and the report can be accessed here.

We also welcomed intern Colette Barry to the team in March. Colette is completing her MA in Criminology from DIT at the moment, and will be working with us until June.

The IPRT Team

Keep up to date on IPRT news and activities between e-bulletins:

Tw: www.twitter.com/iprt / Fb: www.facebook.com/irishpenalreformtrust

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2. Programme for Government

The new Fine Gael/Labour coalition published its Programme for Government,Government for National Recovery 2011 – 2016, with pledges to reform areas of sentencing and prison policy across the Irish criminal justice system. As well as committing to reviewing Thornton Hall and introducing the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Bill, other key elements include  strengthening the powers of the Inspector of Prisons and the Prison Visiting Committees, the establishment of an Offender Management Programme between the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service, and an end to the practice of imprisoning children in St. Patrick’s Institution. IPRT particularly welcomes initiatives to extend the use of use of youth diversion and restorative justice programmes, to end homelessness, to reform mental health care and to tackle educational disadvantage. IPRT hopes that this is a step towards a fairer criminal justice system, one which respects the rights of everyone and one that only uses imprisonment as a last resort.

Read the Programme for Government here.

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3. Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment) No. 2 Bill

One of the first acts by the new Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, was the publication of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) No.2 Bill.   IPRT welcomes its publication as an indication that Irish penal policy is moving towards our vision of a penal system where imprisonment is used as a last resort. The Bill will require Courts to consider the use of community sanctions where the offender would otherwise receive a custodial sentence of up to 12 months (the previous bill published by then Minister Ahern in January applied to sentences of up to 6 months).

IPRT believes that community sanctions make sense in dealing with less serious offences. Community sanctions are significantly less costly than custodial sentences, and allow people to remain in their communities with their families,  and retain their jobs, training and housing. For instance, in 2009,  70% of sentenced committals were for 3 months or less and on an average day, 15% of the Irish prison population is serving a sentence of 12 months or less. The Bill received a good reception in the Dáil on the 7th April with Maureen O’Sullivan TD, Thomas Pringle TD, and Tom Barry TD all mentioning IPRT in their questions to the Minister.

In advance of the Dáil debate, IPRT published a new Briefing on the Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment) No.2 Bill on 23rd March. As well as welcoming the Bill, IPRT has recommended that Judges should give their reasons in writing where they have decided to send someone to prison instead of giving a community sentence.

Read the IPRT Briefing here.

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4. Upcoming Event: Beyond the Record - Spent Convictions & Discrimination

IPRT is delighted to announce that we host Bobby Cummines OBE FRSA of UNLOCK on Tuesday 10th May, 2011 for a series of events focusing on the obstacles and barriers experienced by those who have a criminal record and who wish to move on in their lives.

Ireland currently has neither Spent Convictions legislation nor anti-discrimination legislation applying to former offenders or former prisoners. IPRT welcomes the commitment by the new Government to publish a Spent Convictions Bill by July 2011, and will be working hard this year towards optimum levels of legal protection in the bill and to broaden the agenda for reform in this area.

For more information on the IPRT Spent Convictions campaign, visit: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions

Event Details

The public forum will take place on Tues 10th May, 2011 from 5-6.30pm in a Dublin city-centre venue. (Exact details await final confirmation.) The event is free but places are limited.

To register for the event, please contact Mary Gaffney at tel: 01-8741400 or e: info@iprt.ie or sign up online here

Bobby Cummines - biography
Bobby is a leading figure in prison reform and crime reduction in the UK. As Chief Executive of UNLOCK, Bobby has been an expert advisor to the Government and House Of Commons on issues of prison reform and rehabilitation, including the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee: Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, Specialist Advisor appointed by the Home Secretary, and Member of the Chief Inspector of Prison's Advisory Group, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on Prisoner Education, and as board member of the NOMS South East Regional Reducing Re-offending Delivery Board.

Among his achievements are: establishment of Esteem Insurance to provide a range of insurance products to ex-offenders and individuals living with ex-offenders who face exclusion from the general market; establishment of independent specialist mortgage services for ex-offenders; the establishment of a pilot project with HBOS to provide basic bank accounts to serving prisoners; and he has successfully campaigned with the Penal Reform Trust (UK) against the blanket ban on voting rights for prisoners.

Bobby was awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List 2011 for services to reformed offenders. He is also a former offender and prisoner.

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5. Review of Thornton Hall

Earlier this month, Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, announced a review of the proposed ‘super-prison’ to be built at Thornton Hall, North Co. Dublin. The review will comprise a board of four who will investigate whether the plans should proceed, considering the current fiscal situation, the amount of monies already spent, and prisoner population projections. IPRT has consistently campaigned for the abolishment of the project and has called for the existing prison estate to be refurbished instead.

The board consists of Brendan Murtagh - a partner in LHM Casey McGrath; Tom Cooney - Lecturer in Law, UCD and now advisor to the Minister; Brian Purcell - Director General of the Irish Prison Service; and Judge Catherine McGuinness – retired President of the Law Reform Commission. The review should be concluded by the summer.

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6. Inspector of Prisons publishes report on Mountjoy Prison

On 5th April, the latest inspection report on Mountjoy Prison was published. Judge Reilly’s report highlights problems around the handling of prisoners’ complaints, including incidents where prisoners presented with injuries and were not investigated by prison staff or the Gardaí. The Inspector emphasised that the failure to address complaints was leading to a ‘culture of impunity’ which needs to come to an end. The Inspector has stated that by 1st July, 2011 all complaints should be dealt with in accordance with best practice, and that accurate records should be maintained throughout the prison system at all times. The report reinforces IPRT’s call for an overhaul of the complaints procedure in the prison system and the establishment of a comprehensive independent complaints mechanism to properly investigate all incidents.

While there were positive comments regarding the running of the prison, including the recent refurbishment of cells in the C wing to include in-cell sanitation, the Inspector noted that nothing has been done to address the chronic problem of overcrowding in Mountjoy and that it continues to operate at dangerously high levels.

IPRT welcomed the publication by the Inspector, and hopes that this report marks a significant change in the manner in which problems are dealt with in our prisons. To read the report click here.

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7. IPRT submission to the UN Committee Against Torture

In May 2011, Ireland will be examined by the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) to judge whether it is meeting its international human rights obligations to prevent torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. IPRT, in conjunction with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, has been working on a Shadow Report, which will be submitted to UNCAT by 21st April; the report highlights how Ireland is not meeting its obligations.

Prison related recommendations in the report include:

  • that prison conditions must be improved, including the eradication of ‘slopping out’ in prisons
  • an independent complaints mechanism must be established
  • a system should be put in place to eventually stop prisoners’ dependency on drugs

The report also makes recommendations about investigations into deaths in prison custody, the detention of asylum seekers, and the treatment of people with mental health issues.

While the Government’s submission to UNCAT highlighted how it was implementing best practice in areas, it failed to demonstrate how it was meeting its full obligations under CAT and how rights are protected in Ireland. The report will be available online at www.iprt.ie and www.iccl.ie from 21st April, 2011.

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8. IPRT in the News

  • On 21 Feb, IPRT’s Liam wrote an article forPolitico.ieabout crime being a noticeably absent issue from the 2011 General Election, arguing that from one perspective, this may be positive.
  • On 23 Feb,The Last Word on Today FM hosted a debate on justice issues. IPRT’s Liam joinedEllen O'Malley Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, John Curran TD (FF) and Pat Rabbitte TD (Lab) to talk about crime and punishment in the 2011 General Election party manifestos
  • On 25 Feb,as part of #CRISISJAM, IPRT’s Liam discussed budget cuts and looming crises in the Director's Blog, explaining that levels of crime in society are determined largely by the inequality in that society. He appealed to the new Government to rethink responses to both criminal justice and social injustice, to make a better and safer society for all.
  • On 8 March, the Irish Examiner reported that IPRT welcomed the pledge to end the practice of sending children to St Patrick’s Institution included in the new Programme for Government. IPRT said they were "highly concerned" that a new facility at Oberstown, which is supposed to cater for those youths, does not have the funding to progress as planned.
  • On 11 March, IPRT’s Liam wrote in theLaw Society Gazette regarding imprisonment as a last resort, calling on the new government to make a clear political commitment to reducing imprisonment.
  • On 12 March, the Evening Herald reported on security searches taking place in the Dochas Centre. IPRT commented on overcrowding in the Dochas Centre, describing the problem as “out of control”.
  • On 6 April 2011, IPRT’s Liam spoke to the RTE Nine O'Clock News following the publication of the Inspector of Prisons’ report on Mountjoy.
  • On 7 April, the Irish Examiner reported on the Inspector’s Mountjoy report, focusing on the finding of a “culture of impunity” among some prison officers. IPRT’s Liam was quoted throughout the article, saying, "While the report paints a shocking picture of a culture of impunity within the prison system, the bringing of these issues into the public domain is a strong vindication of the system of prison inspection".

For a full list and links, click here.

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9. MA in Criminology at DIT

Applications are now being accepted for the Masters in Criminology at the School of Social Science and Law, Dublin Institute of Technology. As well as providing students with a strong theoretical understanding in contemporary criminological issues, it also offers an interesting  smorgasbord of elective modules include sentencing, youth offending, penal policy, policing, victimology, crime prevention and criminal law. The programme has attracted a range of students from practitioners such as Gardaí, social workers and lawyers; it also serves as a good route to careers in academia and research. The closing date for applications is 29th April 2011.

For more information on the MA in Criminology, click here.

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10. Upcoming Events

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Irish Penal Reform Trust

4th Floor, Equity House, 16-17 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7

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