The Joint Oireachtas Committee Report on Penal Reform launched its Report on Penal Reform on Wednesday 27th March 2013. Chaired by David Stanton TD and established at the initiative of Senator Ivana Bacik in October 2011, the Sub-Committee on Penal Reform was established to make a series of recommendations for improving the penal system.
The Sub-Committee’s Report looks at wider structural issues and the application of progressive front door and effective back door strategy alternatives to custody.The Report also recognised that overcrowding and the deterioration of prison conditions have resulted in a prison system characterised by drug misuse, gang conflict, violence and inadequate physical conditions that breach international human rights standards.The sub-committee’s recommendations therefore follow the Thornton Review Group’s endorsement of IPRT principles of respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.
The Sub-Committee’s report follows previous reports into and research conducted on the Irish penal system such as the 2011 Thornton Hall Report, IPRT’s 2012 Position Paper on Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole, and the Whitaker Report of 1985.
The Sub-Committee’s main recommendations include:
- A declared intention by the Irish Government to adopt a ‘decarceration strategy’ to reduce the prison population by one-third over a ten year period.
- All prison sentences for non-violent offences under 6 months should be commuted and replaced with community service orders.
- Standard remission should be increased from one-quarter to one-third of all sentences over one month in length. An incentivised remission scheme of up to one half should also be introduced for certain categories of prisoner, for instance those serving a prison sentence for the first time.
- The introduction of a single piece of legislation which would set out the basis for a structured release system that would include proposed changes to remission, temporary release, parole and the expanded community return programme as recommended by theIPRT Position Paper 9: Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole in October 2012.
- Actions should be taken to tackle overcrowding and to improve conditions within prisons generally. The proportion of open prisons should also be increased.
Overall, the subcommittee is unequivocal in its aim of a reformed, fair and progressive penal system in Ireland that is effective in reducing recidivism through the use of an ordered prison system and good sentence management strategies.
Links to relevant information and publications are included below.
- Joint Oireachtas Committee Report on Penal Reform: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/Penal-Reform-Report-13-March-2013-Final.pdf
- Justice Committee Press Release: Decarceration policy for non-violent prisoners needed to reduce prisoner numbers.
- IPRT Position Paper 9: Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole.
- IPRT Media Advisory: Political consensus on ‘decarceration strategy’ clears the way for real reform of Ireland’s penal system.