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Proposed Community Return Scheme offers potential for more structured and transparent safe release of prisoners – IPRT

2nd May 2012

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomes plans to extend the pilot Community Return Programme as one of a number of measures proposed in the Irish Prison Service Strategic Pan 2012-2014 to address the chronic overcrowding in Irish prisons. Current levels of overcrowding seriously undermine the Irish prison system’s ability to meet its core goal of rehabilitation and reducing reoffending. IPRT therefore welcomes plans to reduce the prison population to 2007 levels, and thus bring the prison population back to within the operational capacity of Irish prisons.

The Community Return Programme is an incentivised scheme under which offenders, who are assessed as posing no threat to the community, are offered early temporary release in return for supervised community service. The Irish Prison Service, working in conjunction with the Probation Service, plans to release 400 prisoners per year for the next three years under this supervised scheme.  IPRT sees this measure as one part of a wider programme of shifting the balance in the criminal justice system from expensive and ineffective incarceration towards crime prevention and community payback.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“International evidence demonstrates that effective and adequately resourced community payback schemes lead to lower reoffending rates, which should be the core goal of any penal system. For every prisoner who is supported in desisting from offending behaviour following their release, there is one less victim. Moreover, communities also benefit directly from the work carried out by offenders. It is in everybody’s interest that this scheme works.”

“IPRT believes this Community Return Programme has the potential for a more structured and transparent system of early release than the system of ad hoc temporary release as it currently operates, which is unsatisfactory for both prisoners and the community alike. However, any early release programme must operate as a transparent process based on clear criteria, open to appeal and to scrutiny. It must also be supported by adequate resourcing of probation and community services, along with increased provision of regimes and education within the prisons.”

“In fact, what is being proposed here is not a great leap from the system that is currently in operation. While prisoners in Ireland have an automatic entitlement to remission of 25% off their sentence, Irish legislation already provides for enhanced remission after two thirds of the sentence if prisoners are constructively engaging with prison services. Prisoners in the UK can be considered for parole after serving 50% of their sentence, and are automatically released at the two thirds point.”

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with Liam Herrick, please contact: Fíona Ní Chinnéide on 087-1812990

NOTES:

1. IPRT Press Release: ‘New prisons strategy must be supported by adequate resources and reform across criminal justice system’

On 30th April 2012, IPRT issued a press release welcoming the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2012-2014. See here:  http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2324

IPRT has previously proposed that the prison population can be reduced in a safe and structured way with some reform of the present early release processes, which would be preferable to the current relatively unstructured over-use of the temporary release system. See, for example, IPRT’s submission to the Review Group on Thornton Hall, in which we advocate for a combination of ‘front door’ and ‘back door’ policies, available here.

2. Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2012 - 2014

The IPS Strategic Plan 2012 – 2014 was launched by Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter on Monday, 30th April 2012. See: http://irishprisons.ie/index.php/3-year-plan

3. Statement by the Department of Justice and Equality

On 1st May 2012, the Minister for Justice issued a press release on the Community Return Programme, which is an incentivised scheme introduced in line with the recommendations of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group. See: http://www.merrionstreet.ie/index.php/2012/05/statement-by-the-department-of-justice-and-equality

4. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

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.

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