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Accelerating rates of female imprisonment must be addressed with urgency in order to minimise harm to families and communities – IPRT

6th March 2014

IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today welcomed the joint commitment by The Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service to develop more effective gender-informed responses to offending by women. Accelerating rates of female committals to prison, and persistent overcrowding in Ireland’s two female prisons, means immediate action is required - and IPRT calls on both agencies to develop and implement a detailed plan of action with urgency.

IPRT was responding to the Joint Probation Service – Irish Prison Service Strategy 2014-2016: An Effective Response to Women Who Offend, published today (Thursday 6th March 2014). The Strategy echoes many of the recommendations made in the IPRT Position Paper, Women in the Criminal Justice System - Towards a non-custodial approach (December 2013), including supported community sanctions and community-based ‘one-stop-shop’ centres.

Key issues to emerge in the Irish Prison Service Annual Report for 2013, also published today, include high proportions of seventeen-year-olds boys committed on remand to prison, and the persistent over-reliance on short sentences by the Irish criminal justice system.

Positive developments include an overall decrease in prison committals and daily prison populations in the male prisons; measures taken towards the elimination of slopping out; a significant reduction in the number of prisoners held on 22/23-hour lock-up; and a number of education and community-engagement initiatives.

Commenting today, IPRT Acting Executive Director, Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:

“All the progressive developments we are seeing across the male prison estate must be extended to the female prison estate. The negative impact on families and communities of imprisoning increasing numbers of women for non-violent and less serious offences, including fines default, cannot be overstated. 

“Today there were 141 women in the Dóchas Centre, which has a capacity of 105. In Limerick prison, where conditions are completely inadequate, there were 33 women detained in a space designed for 24. No prison can fulfill its rehabilitative function in such crowded conditions. Visiting conditions in Limerick Prison compound the negative impacts on children of prisoners.”

Noting that of the 84 seventeen-year-old boys committed to prison in 2013, 41 were committed under sentence - suggesting a remand rate of over 50%, against a remand rate of 21% among the general prison population - she further commented:

“No child should be committed to prison, and IPRT welcomes progress during 2013 towards ending the detention of children in St Patrick's Institution.”

“However, IPRT is deeply concerned about the high numbers of children committed on remand, many of whom do not go on to receive a detention order. The Ombudsman for Children has also raised concerns about the use of detention on remand on welfare and assessment grounds. Detention of children is a serious sanction, and it must not be used to plug gaps in social and health services.”

Finally, while welcoming an overall reduction in prison committals during 2013, IPRT noted the persistent high rates of committals on short sentences:

“Ireland has one of the highest rates of prison committals in Europe due to its over-reliance on short sentences and on imprisonment for fines default. Almost 90% of sentenced committals in 2013 were for sentences of less than 12 months, despite legislation requiring judges to consider community service orders in lieu of short custodial sentences." 

“Community sanctions are a more effective response to less serious offending, with lower rates of reoffending and community benefits through work carried out. IPRT again calls on the Minister for Justice to commute all sentences of under 6 months, as proposed in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality Report on Penal Reform in March 2013.”

For all media enquiries, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990

NOTES:

1. Reports published today, Thurs 6th March 2014:

2. IPRT Position Paper 10: Women in the Criminal Justice System


This IPRT Position Paper (published 4th December 2013) details recent trends in the imprisonment of women in Ireland; the complex range of needs experienced by many women convicted of an offence; and the associated overuse of remand for women offenders. Download here: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2571

3. Prison figures (source: irishprisons.ie):

  • Current prison population is 4,077 (6 March 2014)
  • On 6 March 2014, there are 141 women in the Dóchas Centre (capacity 105) and 33 in Limerick female prison (capacity 24 according to the Inspector of Prisons)
  • 89.5% of committals under sentence in 2013 were for <12 months [87.5% in 2012, up 2.4%] 
  • 8,121 committals for fines default in 2013, decrease of 2.2% from 8,304 in 2012 [7,514 in 2011; 6,683 in 2010]
  • 3,061 committals under sentence to <12 months* in 2013, decrease of 479 committals or 13.5% [3,540 committals under sentence to <12 months in 2012] *This figure is calculated by the total committals under sentence <12 months minus committals under sentence for fines default.
  • On 6 March 2014, there are eight 17-year-olds in custody in St Patrick's on remand
  • 8.1% increase in number of women committed to prison in 2013; women now make up 18% of individuals committed [compared with 15.5% in 2012 and 13.5% in 2011]
  • 9.4% increase in female sentenced committals in 2013 [2,265 in 2013; 2,071 in 2012; 1,660 in 2011, increase of 36.4% from 2011 to 2013]
  • 12.3% increase in female committals for fines and debt default in 2013. [1,894 in 2013, 1,687 in 2012, 1,300 in 2011]
  • 50 prisoners are on 22+ hour lock-up in January 2014: of these, 16 in Wheatfield, 11 in Midlands, 7 in Cork [150 prisoners on >20 hour lock-up] 

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.