The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today congratulated Minister Frances Fitzgerald TD on her appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality. IPRT also acknowledges the significant progress in reforming Ireland’s penal system which has been achieved since March 2011 during the tenure of former Minister Mr Alan Shatter TD. IPRT looks forward to the continuation of this programme of progressive penal reform, which contributes to a safer, more efficient and more equitable justice system.
IPRT also congratulates Charlie Flanagan TD on his appointment as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Among the most significant achievements within the youth justice system since 2011 has been progress towards ending the detention of children in the adult prison system, and the extension of the Ombudsman for Children’s remit to receive complaints from children detained in the adult prison system. These were achieved through the close co-operation of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, and IPRT looks forward to this productive co-operation between the two Departments continuing under the new appointments.
While many of the Justice and Law Reform commitments included in the Programme for Government have been met, a number of critical goals remain to be achieved, including:
- the ratification of Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT);
- the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism, such as a Prisoner Ombudsman;
- the placing of the Parole Board on a statutory basis;
- the passing and enactment of spent convictions legislation;
- the implementation of appropriate measures to address and reduce increasing rates of female imprisonment;
- an end to overcrowding and slopping out in Ireland’s prisons;
- an end to imprisonment for fines.
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Although significant work remains to be done in the area of penal reform, it is hoped that Minister Fitzgerald will build upon a number of important reforms which have been achieved since March 2011:
- Penal Policy: the establishment of an all-encompassing strategic review of penal policy, with a view to achieving a principled and sustainable penal system in line with international obligations.
- St Patrick’s Institution: The ending of detention of 16-year-old boys in the adult prison system; the transfer of sentenced 17-year-old boys from St Patrick’s Institution, with the final 17-year old boys due to be transferred to new appropriate facilities in Oberstown by the third quarter of 2014; and the extension of Ombudsman for Children’s complaints remit to include children in the adult prison system.
- Thornton Hall Review: which acknowledged that prison building will not address overcrowding, and which recommended the strategic review of Irish penal policy.
- Prison Population: rocketing prison numbers halted – but numbers remain too high.
- Overcrowding: reduced in some prisons – but six prisons remain overcrowded.
- More effective sentencing: Shift in policy emphasis towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders – but slow implementation of these reforms.
- Community Return Scheme: which has seen a 90% compliance rate among offenders released to complete their sentences in the community.
- Refurbishment of unfit prison accommodation: including installation of in-cell sanitation to Mountjoy Prison; work on replacement of Cork Prison.
- Progress on accountability: improved internal complaints mechanism in prisons, and extension of the Inspector of Prisons’ remit to investigate deaths in prison custody.
- Improved co-operation between prisons and probation: including the Joint Prison Service/Probation Service Strategic Plan 2013-2015 and the Joint Irish Prison Service Probation Service Female Strategy - An Effective Response to Women who Offend.
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