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The Irish Times: 'Shatter to review mandatory terms for drugs offences'

17th September 2011

Writing in The Irish Times, Carol Coulter reports on Minister Shatter's "wide-ranging speech" at the Irish Penal Reform Trust’s annual lecture, which took place on Friday 16th September in the Law Society of Ireland, Blackhall Place.

In his paper, the Minister stressed the importance of human rights principles in prison policy and the need to distinguish retribution from revenge. He announced a review of mandatory sentences for certain drug offences; committed to examining ways to remove prisoners with mental health problems from the prison system; and also committed to the enhancement of internal complaints procedure for prisoners.

Speaking on mandatory sentencing, the Minister said “There is a growing body of evidence that the use of mandatory sentences does not make things better.” He stated that the sentencing power was more likely to be used to punish low-level offenders, the mules or users.

Recognising the"underlying social conditions of [prisoners'] criminality – the lack of skills, education, and employment", the Minister spoke about the need for evidence-based, rehabilitative services "to be targeted at suitable offenders, adequately resourced, and the conditions for implementing them must be strictly met."

On the recent increases in numbers in prison, which have increased by 50 per cent in the past five years, he said: “I have heard no suggestion that we are 50 per cent safer because of this rise in imprisonment.”

A change in mandatory sentencing for drug cases would be welcomed the Irish Penal Reform Trust said. It was “one of the key problems driving up the prison population” executive director Liam Herrick said.

Reducing prison overcrowding in the short term “has to be a priority” and would release pressure on the system making everything else easier to manage, he said.

Nominees for irish seat on CPT

The Minister also announced that Dr Mary Rogan, lecturer in DIT and chairperson of IPRT, is one of is one of the Government’s three nominees for the Irish seat on the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The other nominees are Sean Aylward, former Secretay General of the Department of Justice, and Donncha O’Connell of NUI Galway.

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