Responding to the publication today of the Irish Prison Service’s Annual Report 2011, the Irish Penal Reform Trust has called on Government to take urgent action to address the sharp increase last year in the number of women committed to prison and the continuing high rate of imprisonment for fine defaulters. Although the report reveals a levelling off in the overall number of committals to prison in 2011, prison numbers remain at the highest they have been and after a slight levelling off in the latter of 2011, numbers have begun to creep back up to over 4,500 in July 2012.
Responding to the report today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
“Given that the number of prisoners had increased by 30% over the preceding three years, the fact that 2011 saw static prison growth is encouraging. At the same time there remain some worrying trends such as the increase in women prisoners, the persistent use of prison for fine default and the aging of the prison population. We also cannot afford to be complacent, as recent months have seen some upward trends in prisoner numbers.
The Prison Service’s Strategic Plan, published earlier this year, gives a positive vision of how the prison system can improve without expanding. Overcrowding remains a chronic problem and if the Prison Service is to meet its own targets of addressing the many problems in the prison system, there needs to be coordinated policies to keep prisoner numbers down. This means reform of sentencing, diversion and parole.”
On the publication of the IPS Annual Report 2011, IPRT is calling on Government to:
· Fulfil the commitment in the Programme for Government to legislate for parole reform. A structured and transparent system for releasing prisoners is urgently needed. The Community Return Scheme initiated by the Prison Service and Probation Service is a positive step; but root and branch reform of remission, temporary release and parole is required.
· Address the continuing and worsening problem of imprisonment for fine default. The human and financial cost of this practice means we cannot afford to wait for further legislation or long promised IT systems. The Government must look for immediate solutions by bringing together the various State agencies: Garda, Probation and the District Court.
· The increase in women being committed to prison for short sentences demands a focussed response from both the Prison Service and Probation Service. Both Services have acknowledged that specific alternatives to prison for low-level female offenders are needed. The Community and Voluntary Sector is committed to working with the State agencies to help develop the necessary housing and welfare services to keep vulnerable women out of prison.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2011
The report is available for download here.
2. Latest prison figures:
- There were 4,521 people in prison custody in Ireland on 17th July 2012. (Dáil Question, 19th July 2012: http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2012-07-19.2718.0)
- The average daily number in custody during 2011 was 4,390; the number of prisoners in custody reached 4,587 on 12th April, 2011 (the highest number noted by IPRT.)
- There were 4,490 committals to prison for non-payment of court-ordered fines in the first six months of 2012. (Dáil Question, 17th July 2012: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2012/07/17/00478.asp)
- There was a 1.4% increase in the number of persons committed to prison in 2011, with a total of 13,952 persons imprisoned last year.
- While there has been some levelling off in the overall numbers of persons committed to prison, this is not the case for female offenders - 200 more women were sent to prison in 2011 than in 2010, representing an increase of 12%, compared to a 0.1% decrease in the number of males committed in the same year. A higher proportion of women than men are serving short sentences. In 2011, 25% of female inmates were serving a sentence of 12 months or less, compared with 14% of male inmates.
3. IPRT Annual lecture | 20th Sept 2012
The Honourable Mr Justice Colman Treacy will present IPRT’s Annual Lecture, which will address the work of the Sentencing Council of England and Wales, and the broader area of sentencing law. The event takes place Thursday 20th September, 2012 from 6-8pm in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin 8. More details here: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2372
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.