The number of female prisoners in Irish prisons has increased dramatically in recent years. Women offenders generally present a lower risk to society, yet high numbers are being sent to prison for non-violent offences. In addition, prison policies can often overlook the gender-specific health and welfare needs of female prisoners.
Ireland simply cannot afford the social and economic costs of sending increasing numbers of women to prison, when even a short period of imprisonment is demonstrated to have a profound negative impact on families and communities, particularly in breaking the relationship between mothers and their children.
This IPRT Briefing outlines the current provisions for female prisoners in Ireland, with eight clear recommendations for change, with particular emphasis on community-based alternatives.
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- The imprisonment of women must only be used as a last resort when all other alternatives are deemed unsuitable.
- The Government should commission an urgent review of sentencing practices, which see high numbers of women receive custodial sentences for less-serious and non-violent crimes.
- There should be a wider use of gender-specific alternatives to custody, along with provision of an open-prison type regime for women.
- Increased support services in the community would 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.
- Female prisoners with serious mental health issues should be diverted away from the prison system.
- Adequate facilities must be provided to ensure that the welfare of children born in custody is protected.
- Contact between female prisoners and their families, particularly their children, should be facilitated and encouraged.
- Special provision must be made for the gender-specific health and welfare requirements of female prisoners.