On Wed 5th November 2014, Seanad Éireann debated a Private Member's Motion calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline her proposals for reform of penal policy in the context of the recommendations of (1) Report on Penal Reform by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and (2) the Strategic Review of Penal Policy Report (SRPPR). IPRT thanked Senator Bacik for calling this debate, and attended in the public gallery.
IPRT has previously welcomed the five recommendations in the Report on Penal Reform by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality along with many of the recommendations included in the Strategic Review of Penal Policy Report (SRPPR). IPRT believes that the expedient implementation of key recommendations arising out of these reports is critical.
While there has been recent progress in reform of the penal system, there is still much to be achieved to ensure that Ireland is meeting its international human rights obligations, and that our penal policy is rational, evidence-based and makes both social and economic sense. These issues were raised in the Seanad debate on Penal Reform, with focus centring on 5 specific recommendation listed in the 2013 Report on Penal Policy:
- reduce prison numbers;
- commute prison sentences of less than six months for non-violent offences;
- increase standard remission from one-quarter to one-third and introduce an incentivised remission scheme of up to one-half;
- introduce legislation for structured release, temporary release, parole and community return; and
- address prison conditions and overcrowding and increase the use of open prisons.
Senator Bacik advocated the implementation of a decarceration strategy to tackle recidivism and called on the Minister of Justice to provide public commitment to the immediate establishment of both a consultative council and a mechanism to ensure the implementation of actions arising from the report.
Senator Bacik also posed a number of queries to the Minister which questioned:
- progress made in relation to the current and future Irish Prison Service strategic plan;
- the lack of focus on the social context of crime; and
- the poor attempt made by the Department of Justice in advertising its request for submissions in formulating its next Strategy Statement.
In response, Minister of State Dara Murphy TD (for Minister Fitzgerald) stated that future penal policy efforts must be focussed on the two goals of “punishment and prevention". In this, it was stated that the social need for punishment must be met, but the proven potential to reduce crime through reducing re-offending must also be grasped.
IPRT welcomes the Minister's acknowledgment of the need to progress from the ‘Victorian-era penal approach’ and reduce recidivism rates through rehabilitative efforts going forward. IPRT welcomed the reiteration of the Minister to remove decision-making from political power and place the Parole Board on an independent statutory footing.
IPRT welcomes the contributions to the debate by Senator Jillian van Turnhout, Senator Aideen Hayden, Senator Denis O'Donovan, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Senator Martin Conway, Senator Susan O'Keeffe, Senator Michael Mullins, and Senator Paschal Mooney.
Read the proceedings here.