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Prison is being used as respite for women with multiple complex needs – IPRT

4th December 2013


Prison is being used as respite for women with multiple complex needs, when community-based responses would better address women’s offending behaviour – IPRT

Prison is being used as a place of respite for women with multiple complex needs, and a co-ordinated inter-agency response is required to address the chronic overcrowding and revolving doors in Ireland’s two female prisons. Current proposals to build 50 cells at Limerick female prison will only exacerbate the issues, unless matched by a commitment by Government to significantly reduce the female prison population, through the provision of non-custodial alternatives for women offenders.

These are the core findings included in a new Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) publication, IPRT Position Paper 10: Women in the Criminal Justice System - Towards a non-custodial approach, which was launched by Minister of State for the Dept of Health and the Dept of Justice, Equality and Defence Ms Kathleen Lynch at a seminar event, Re-designing the Pattern: Women and the Criminal Justice System, which took place in Wood Quay Venue, Dublin today (4th December 2013).

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“There is something profoundly wrong with a society where women seek prison as a place of respite from the chaotic and often dangerous lives they lead on the outside. Prison should be a last resort, not a first resort – this is especially true for women offenders, many of whom are sentenced for non-violent and less serious offences.”

“Following the Thornton Hall Review Group report, Government acknowledged that prison building will not address overcrowding issues. The progressive policy developments we have seen in the male prison estate must now be extended to include the female prison estate.” 

“Any expansion of the female prison estate is short-sighted, and will only compound the cycle of damage to families and communities of sending increasing numbers of women to prison.”

“Instead, we need to see low-risk women offenders diverted to non-custodial community-based alternatives, such as the ‘one-stop-shops’ in the UK, which address the mental health issues, addictions, experience of abuse, poverty, homelessness and other critical factors which characterise offending by women.”

There was a 25% increase in the number of female committals to prison in 2012, even as male committals decreased slightly. There were 150 female committals in 1990; 402 in 2005; and 2,092 in 2012, according to the Inspector of Prisons’ interim report on the Dóchas Centre, published yesterday (3rd Dec 2013).

On launch of the report, IPRT is calling on the Minister for Justice and the Irish Prison Service to:

  1. Bring to an end the damaging practice of imprisonment for fines default with urgency;
  2. Reconsider proposals for penal expansion at Limerick female prison, and instead direct resources to provision of community-based alternatives;
  3. Address the overuse of remand for women offenders;
  4. Develop specialist mental health courts which divert those with mental illness who have committed minor offences to community inpatient or outpatient facilities;
  5. Gender-proof non-custodial alternatives, such as Community Service Orders, to ensure that no women are excluded from such measures;
  6. Develop an interagency approach in order to effectively address offending behaviour by women. Key stakeholders include: the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service, the HSE, the Garda Síochána and the community and voluntary sector;
  7. Provide Mother and Baby Units at Limerick prison to ensure the health, well-being and safety of imprisoned mothers and their babies in line with international best practice and domestic child protection rules;
  8. Provide adequate reintegration supports for these women offenders, both during their prison sentence and following release, with particular emphasis on stable and secure housing.

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, please contact: Fíona on 087 181 2990


1. Re-designing the Pattern: Women in the Criminal Justice System

This event took place on Wed 4th December 2013 in the Wood Quay Venue, Dublin 8. Chaired by Siobhán O’Donoghue, Chair of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, speakers were:

  • Minister of State for the Dept of Health and the Dept of Justice, Ms Kathleen Lynch TD
  • Prof Gill McIvor (University of Stirling - Scotland);
  • Sarah Anderson, Director of Policy and Research, Revolving Doors - England);
  • Jean O’Neill, Area Manager, Inspire Women’s Project, NI Probation Service;
  • Dr Mary Rogan, Chair, Irish Penal Reform Trust

Respondents included: Mary O’Connor, Governor, Dóchas Centre; Suzanne Vella, Deputy Director, The Probation Service; and Ailish Glennon, Senior Probation Officer, The Probation Service.

2. Prison figures:

  • On 3rd December 2013, Ireland’s two women’s prisons were the two most crowded in the Irish prison estate at 119% (Dóchas Centre) and 118% (Limerick female prison).
  • There were 125 women in custody in the Dóchas Centre women’s prison, which has a design capacity of 105.
  • There were 33 women in Limerick female prison, which has a bed capacity of 28, according to the Irish Prison Service – the Inspector of Prisons gives the design capacity as 24.
  • There was a 13% increase in number of women committed to prison in 2012; women now make up 15.5% of individuals committed (compared with 13.5% in 2011; and 12% in 2010).
  • The number of women committed to prison in 2012 for fines default was 1,687; this is a five-fold increase on 2008, when 339 women were imprisoned for fines default.

Source: www.irishprisons.ie and IPS Annual Reports 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2008.

3. IPRT Position Paper on Women in Prison - NEW

On 4 Dec 2013, Minister Kathleen Lynch launched the IPRT Position Paper 10: Women in the Criminal Justice System - Towards a non-custodial approach.

4. Inspector of Prisons’ Interim Report on the Dóchas Centre

On 3 Dec 2013, the interim report on the Dóchas Centre by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, was published by the Minister for Justice. 

5. The Women in Prison Reform Alliance (WPRA)

WIPRA is made up of a number of organisations and individuals concerned with women’s rights and the rights of prisoners; members of the alliance include IPRT, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Mercy Justice Office, Dominican Justice Office and Dr Christina Quinlan.

6. The 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. For more information, please visit: www.iprt.ie 

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