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Punishing cuts to preventative services will exacerbate unfairness of criminal justice system, warns IPRT

2nd February 2012

MEDIA ADVISORY

Ireland’s system of punishment impacts disproportionately on socially excluded communities, and cuts to key preventative services in the community will exacerbate crime rates. Instead, Government must ring-fence resources for policy interventions that address social marginalisation, and thereby reduce crime. This is the core message of a new report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), The Vicious Circle of Social Exclusion and Crime: Ireland’s Disproportionate Punishment of the Poor,which was launched this afternoon (Thursday 2nd February, 2012) at a seminar co-hosted by the Community Platform and IPRT.

The report highlights the causative links between social exclusion, deprivation and crime. It details criminal justice policies, such as imprisonment for non-payment of fines and the criminalisation of begging, which directly target the poor; it also presents clear evidence that marginalised communities are more heavily policed and more severely punished than more affluent communities, compounding the social exclusion that underlies much crime. The report concludes with fifteen clear recommendations to Government on policy and legislative action to address these issues, and thereby create a fairer – and safer – society for everyone.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“Austerity measures which see cuts to health, education and other key services impact disproportionately on marginalized communities. In effect, these communities are being penalized for mistakes made by other sections of society, and increasing levels of social exclusion will have a negative impact on crime. We are punishing disadvantage and making the situation worse, instead of addressing social marginalization in order to reduce crime, and create a safer society for everyone.

“We need adequately resourced prevention and early intervention strategies to prevent vulnerable young people coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place, and, at the other end, we need well-resourced reintegration services to support former offenders’ transition back into the community and prevent further offending. This is not rocket science, it is common sense.

“The fact that Ireland is the only EU state without spent convictions legislation is just one example of how we reinforce the marginalisation that results from imprisonment. That we continue to imprison thousands of people every year for not paying fines, while those involved in ‘white collar’ crime remain largely unpunished, further underscores Ireland’s disproportionate punishment of some sections of society.”

On the publication of this report, the Irish Penal Reform Trust is calling on the Government to arrest the vicious cycle of social exclusion and crime by:

  • Bringing to an immediate end to imprisonment for non-payment of fines through full implementation of the Fines Act 2010.
  • Adequately resourcing a comprehensive support system for those leaving prison to help reintegrate ex-prisoners back in to society, not only for their benefit but also for the community in which they live.
  • Safeguard future investment in identified areas of spending (education, health, housing) in order to reduce social exclusion, deprivation, crime and imprisonment.

The Vicious Circle of Social Exclusion and Crime: Ireland’s Disproportionate Punishment of the Poor was launched on Thursday 2nd February 2012. Key findings and details about speakers at the event are given below.

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with speakers, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Communications Officer, IPRT on 087-181 2990

NOTES:

1. SEMINAR & LAUNCH:

A launch and seminar around themes arising from The Vicious Circle of Social Exclusion and Crime: Ireland’s Disproportionate Punishment of the Poor took place on Thursday 2nd February 2012 in the Carmelite Community Centre, 56 Aungier St., Dublin 2.

Speakers at the event were:

  • John Lonergan - former Governor of Mountjoy Prison and Patron of IPRT
  • Kathleen Lynch - Professor of Equality Studies, School of Social Justice, University College Dublin
  • Tony Geoghegan - Chief Executive Officer, Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI)
  • Orla O’Connor - Head of Policy, National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI)
  • Brid O’Brien - Head of Policy and Media, Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU)
  • Liam Herrick – Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).

2.  REPORT:

The Vicious Circle of Social Exclusion and Crime: Ireland’s Disproportionate Punishment of the Poor is available for download here. Among the key findings are:

  • Uneven application of the criminal law in Ireland evident from the examination of uneven imprisonment, policing and the responses to white collar crime; uneven policing leads to higher levels of crime detection in disadvantaged areas, while studies show that a person’s economic background may have a significant impact on whether they will receive a prison sentence.
  • Analysis of patterns of crime nationally and internationally reveals a number of key “risk factors” which are directly linked to increased levels offending, including substance misuse, mental health issues and homelessness.  There is a clear and strong link between meeting community needs in these areas and combatting crime; the corollary is that funding cuts in these areas will have a predictable impact on crime in the community.
  • Investment in prevention and early intervention strategies is needed to combat social and educational disadvantage in order to prevent vulnerable young people embarking on criminality in the first place.
  • For individuals already in contact with the criminal justice system, significant obstacles exist inhibiting them breaking the cycle, including barriers to the key social needs such as housing and employment that would allow them become productive members of society. 

3. CAMPAIGN:

The IPRT ‘Shifting Focus’ campaign seeks to demonstrate to policy-makers that a shift in resources from criminal justice to social justice - with emphasis on prevention and early intervention – makes social and economic sense. See: www.iprt.ie/shifting-focus

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.

5. The Community Platform

Founded in 1996, the Community Platform acts as a collective critical voice for equality, rights and anti-poverty interests at a national level. The mission of the Community Platform is to contribute to the achievement of a better Irish society and economy through working innovatively to develop and promote a shared analysis, policies and action based on the values of social solidarity, justice and equality.

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